Thursday, February 08, 2007

To Web Cam or Not to Web Cam

image lifted from Amazon U.S.

My husband and I recently purchased a web cam so his family can see him when he talks with them via Skype. After considerable amounts of research, we decided on a Creative Labs Ultra notebook camera which is a tiny little thing that clips onto a laptop display.

Despite the fact that it was relatively cheap (about $70 from Amazon in the U.S. or Japan) the camera seems to work fine but the facial tracking had to be turned off to stop it from appearing that an earthquake was constantly in progress and the lighting in our bedroom is distinctly yellowish so the color looks a bit off.

I was happy to see that the camera came with software and manual in a variety of languages so I didn't have to hesitate to buy it in Japan. While you can usually download the software in English if the same product is released in both Japan and an English-speaking country, this is not always the case.

Generally, I'm not a fan of the notion of web cameras for several reasons. In this case though, it was purchased to allow my husband's parents and his mother in particular to see him when they talk. He and I don't go back to the U.S. very often (that's a dramatic understatement - I haven't been back for 16 years) and his mother is currently in poor health and the camera allows his family to see him without the plane trip back.

One of the reasons I don't like web cameras is that they symbolize the next level of privacy invasion. I think that the insistent ringing of phones and doorbells are bad enough without the idea that someone gets to see you any time they call you. With family, it's a little different because you don't have to look particularly put-together for them to see you but, with others, I dread the day when video phoning becomes the norm and everyone feels they are entitled to peer in on you if they decide to call and you decide to answer.

I also developed an early aversion to the notion of web cams because my former company dabbled with the notion of teaching lessons by telephone simultaneously with web camera transmission. This was back when ISDN was the fastest connection available. The cameras we used showed a sequence of poor quality, jerky images at a size which made any notion of "eye contact" or demonstrating pronunciation ridiculous.

What was worse about this idea was the fact that the company wanted the teachers to be on camera but the students didn't have to put their mugs on the screen. In other words, this wasn't about the illusion of face-to-face teaching at a distance, it was about letting the students watch the gaijin monkey perform. In the end, the company gave up on the idea before it ever got started because of the logistical issues. Most students didn't want to be tethered to a computer during a lesson that was done easily just with a phone. Also, the fact of the matter was that the work we did required a great deal of database entry during a conversations. We would not really be emulating eye contact because we had to spend so much time looking at the screen or keyboard to do the work.

I guess that my take on this really shows my age since YouTube is full of people who can't wait to upload videos of themselves talking about their lives or doing dumb things. While I think that video or pictures should be mainly for an audience of people who know you and have an emotional attachment to seeing you, it seems that others feel its just as good to put themselves out there for the amusement of strangers. Perhaps living in Japan where I often feel my mere presence often amuses strangers has seriously put me off of any such notion.


Viki in Chiba said...

Hi, just clicked your home from your comment on another blog! About the webcam. You can always set the video to not come on except when you click it to. You can even make yourself a cartoon photo instead or smilie face--anything. Personally I love video caming on skype with both my sons in California...can keep up with their new haircuts, tired looks, etc.

mitzh said...

I totally agree with you on this one...

I value my privacy so much ;P
that or am just so self conscious that I don't like web cams or video cameras..

I agree pictures and videos or web cam for that matter should be shared with people who knows you, and to whom you have an emotional attachment..

Shari said...

viki: Hi there and thanks for yoru comment! I think doing video with family is great for the most part, especially between parents, grandparents, and kids. However, it's just not for me. My husband seems to be comfortable enough doing it though and I probably would do it if my family asked me to (they won't though).

mitzh: Given how similar our personality profiles were when I took the test you linked to on your site, I'm not surprised we're on the same wavelength. ;-) Thanks for your comment!