Will video calling ever replace the telephone call?

I remember being very impressed in the mid 90s when I first saw the BT Video phone - it looked like something out of a science fiction film. People could see each other whilst making a regular phone call (as long as they both had the same phone). Admittedly the quality was rubbish; the picture was grainy and jumped about, and the colours were super bright but you could just about recognise the person you were talking to. No surprise that it never took off.

Fast forward 20 years and you can now video call using FaceTime, Skype or WhatsApp and the quality of the video is getting better and better each year. Yet we still prefer to use traditional phone calls, especially if it’s for routine communication. Maybe this is like TV versus Radio? With TV the picture commands our attention so it’s hard to focus on other tasks; no matter how hard we try to look away and just listen to the audio, our eyes are always drawn back to the screen. With Radio though we’re free to concentrate on other tasks whilst listening to just the sound - no screen to tempt us to look at. In some cases, it can even help us focus more on the task in hand.

With society ever increasingly “on-the-move” the phone call is an integral part of multi-tasking. You can talk to someone whilst walking down the road or driving a car (hands free of course) or whilst eating your breakfast, with it wedged between your shoulder and ear. You couldn’t do this with video calling. It’s bad enough seeing people walking down the street texting. Imagine if everyone was video calling too – lots of people walking into lamp posts (they’d have to start putting protective foam around them). Plus, we don’t always want to be seen.

There’s a time and place for video calling and I think the adoption of it makes our world a richer place. I FaceTime my brother in India. It’s free to do over the internet and we have a more relaxed, longer conversation when we can see each other. And my daughter can see her cousin who she’s never met in real life. In some ways, making time and space for a video call makes it a much better, enjoyable experience. But you need to be in the right environment. My Mum always insists on video calling me from the airport, just as her and Dad are about to jet off on holiday. It’s hard to hear with the noise in the background and she has to shout which makes the audio distort.  

I can see a future for video calling for doctors who can’t physically get to patients and bank mangers wanting to chat to people about mortgages. Witnesses giving evidence in court have been using video calling for years, with great success.

So, for day-to-day communication, will video calling ever replace the telephone call? In the humble opinion of this fan of the phone call, no – I can’t see it.

by Jon. Sept 2017.