Social Factors -- Not Technology -- Limit Videoconferencing - InformationWeek

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IoT
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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
8/6/2008
11:00 AM
Fredric Paul
Fredric Paul
Commentary
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Social Factors -- Not Technology -- Limit Videoconferencing

Despite dramatic improvements in quality and affordability and spiraling cost of business travel, most companies still don't use videoconferencing. That's because even the most significant technological improvements can't address the powerful emotional and psychological factors that make many people uncomfortable with videoconferencing.

Despite dramatic improvements in quality and affordability and spiraling cost of business travel, most companies still don't use videoconferencing. That's because even the most significant technological improvements can't address the powerful emotional and psychological factors that make many people uncomfortable with videoconferencing.In researching a new story for bMighty.com (InformationWeek's sister site for small and midsize companies) called Why You Aren't Using Videoconferencing, I came across this bias in many forms -- even from videoconferencing veterans and vendors -- and experienced it myself. There's even a hilarious YouTube video that exposes one potential pitfall (click here to see it embedded in the bMighty story.)

Bottom line: people are uncomfortable on camera. They don't know how to behave, so they tend to shy away from meeting via videoconference for fear of embarrassing themselves.

Better, more lifelike, technology can help, but even the best telepresence systems don't change the fact that people act differently in a videoconference than they do in a face-to-face meeting. Videoconferencing vendors ranging from Cisco to Siemens recognize this issue, but few are doing much about it.

The hope seems to be that as people get used to it, they'll get over it. Many proponents claim that once people start using a videoconferencing system, they forget they're not in a live meeting.

Maybe so, but others say videoconferencing users remain more conscious of their own and others' appearance, more aware of body language, and less forgiving of mistakes than are participants in live meetings.

As gasoline nears $5 per gallon and air travel becomes an expensive ordeal -- all while spewing untold tons of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere -- many people look to videoconferencing to save money and save the planet. But no matter how much money it saves and how green it is, videoconferencing won't be a viable replacement for most folks until we figure out the basic social conventions around using it properly.

Here's hoping that videoconferencing vendors learn to take that as seriously as they do adding HD video and allowing their systems interconnect with each other.

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