In Your Face

I’ve spent some time observing how people interact with video chat.

My dad loves his iPad, and is constantly bugging me to FaceTime with him. He never lets me know ahead of time, so he always ends up calling me when I’m out with my iPhone (i.e. outside of the required wifi), and then he doesn’t understand why I don’t answer. Because I’m not on the wifi, his call gets directed to my iPad, which is in my room at home. Unlike a regular call, FaceTime has to be scheduled. Even if wifi weren’t necessary, we would still want to schedule such calls because another person is looking at us.

My friend Leslie is a visual effects artist who often uses iChat’s video capabilities to give instructions to her team members. She also uses FaceTime to call her boyfriend. Watching her talk to these people was an unusual experience–it seemed as though nobody was actually looking at her.

Video chat aims to improve our phone calls with the inclusion of the face-to-face contact that we have in real-life conversations. Unfortunately, the awkwardness of camera placement makes it a disorienting experience. When we have conversations in real life, we look one another in the eye, so we expect to look each other in the eye onscreen. Since the camera is actually positioned above the screen, looking at your partner’s eyes appears to your partner as though you are looking at his chin. In order to appear as though we are looking each other in the eye, we must both look at the camera, ultimately defeating the purpose of video chat entirely. The best way to ameliorate this problem would be to move the camera to the center of the screen.