Monday, September 20, 2010

Videophones are for Business, Webcams are for Fun

Soon after he invented the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell began theorizing about face-to-face telecommunication. His ideas inspired others, and in the years since, two dominant technologies have emerged: the videophone and webcam. Whereas videophones are better suited for the work environment, the webcam has been adopted as a casual form of interaction and entertainment.

Although the videophone was envisioned as a replacement for the telephone, the business community has utilized it to increase efficiency in the workplace. Before the widespread dissemination of the Internet, businesses had difficulty sharing information and resources in a timely, simple and economical manner. The videophone addressed these needs as it allowed multi-person conferencing, reduced the need for travel, complimented discussions through visual aids and promoted access to records and information (Dickson and Bowers, 98-100). In addition, businesses are more ideally suited for the videophone because they have built-in networks and are able to afford the equipment and service. Ultimately, the videophone has allowed businesses to ease operations and decrease inefficiency.

The webcam has evolved into a means of communication and enjoyment between friends and family. Unlike the videophone, webcams are inexpensive, easy to use and rely upon existing infrastructures (the Internet and computers) that are readily available and popular. However, due to the intimate and exclusive nature of webcams, they are primarily used between close friends and family. Indeed, when people are homesick (a common occurrence during freshman year of college) or want to talk to a long-distance relative, they often use webcams and applications like Skype. Among friends and family, webcams have become a legitimate form of face-to-face communication.

References- “The video telephone: Impact of a new era in telecommunications” by E.M. Dickson and R. Bowers.

“Anatomy of failure: Picturephone revisited” by A.M. Noll.


  1. I think that the distinction between business use of videophones and webcams versus personal use is an interesting one. Businesses appear to utilize and rely on these technologies more significantly than individuals do for personal use.

    Businesses use webcams and videophones for video-conferencing, training and interviewing. When students are abroad or long-distance from potential employers, they have the option to interview via video-conferencing technologies. Even within the J-School students have the option of video-conferencing with advisor Rob Schwoch in place of an in person appointment.

    On the other hand, individuals use web cams and video phones to chat with relatives/friends, yet not on as consistent of a basis. Personally, I have a one year old niece in New Jersey and saw her for the first time over a video-chatting session with my family. While I still video chat with her and my sister from time-to-time, its much easier and more convenient to reach them by phone. I think this will change as video-chatting-enabled cell phones become the norm; its much easier to take the cell phone you are already talking on and turn on the camera to look at each other than it is to get two people sitting down at their computer at the same time.

  2. I agree with the idea that web cams are more frequently used for personal use. However, I believe the video phone will undoubtedly overtake the web cam soon enough in the personal category.

    From my experiences with friends and family members abroad over the last year, I realized many of the pros and cons to using a web cam. While it is fun and exciting to be able to "see" your friends from thousands of miles away, finding a time that works to sit down with someone who is in a time zone 8-14 hours ahead of yours is nearly impossible. Either I or my friends/family were always awake at strange hours of the day in order to get in a few minutes of Skype face time.

    Was it worth it in the end? Sure! But if we had had the ability to use a mobile video phone like the iPhone 4, life would have been much easier. With the expansion of this technology, I believe the web cam to video phone usage ratio will swap, leaving web cams in the dust. Everything is about being mobile now and that is where web cams lose the race.

  3. What most stood out to me in what you said was that the webcam prospered because it works within existing technological infrastructures. I think that this understanding best helps explain the failure of the videophone partially in terms of its novelty. Sure the videophone used existing telephone lines for communication, but it tried to replace the contemporary technology (regular land phone lines) instead of working within the infrastructure.

    This is why I believe the present resurgence of the videophone via the iPhone and Android phone apps while succeed. This revamped version of an old technology is now working within the infrastructure that is owned and used daily by most people, namely cell phones.

  4. I found it interesting that face-to-face time only succeeds when it is used for personal use and a means of "fun." Both the videophone (as seen in iPhones today) and webcams are successful when they are used to interact with people we already know. Not only did most businesses believe the videophone was too futuristic of a concept, but customers simply did not feel they had any application for it (Noll). They also felt their privacy was compromised when their appearance and emotional state were in view (Dickinson & Bowers).

    It says a lot about society that videophones failed when they were put in a business setting. Are business conversations really that judgmental that when it comes to appearances? Why did the videophone aid to such "communication stress"? Obviously, our country is still struggling with discrimination, and the audio phone has given us a way to combat that. The blindness of the telephone makes it harder to read people's personalities and status, so its easier to play off a facade when doing business. I guess business isn't as honest as we think.

    On the other hand, when such a model is introduced as a means of "fun," users embrace this futuristic concept rather than fear it. My only concern is how it will change society again. We already know that the telephone lacks manners as it rings during dinner and in the middle of conversations. Will new apps such as Facetime add an even more annoying element to daily life, or will it make life easier? Does it have the potential to make us more social or more anti-social as we will begin to use technology as a means of communication and forget about person-to-person interaction?