Why I Hate Video Chat

There are few things I hate more than interacting with people I don’t want to interact with, but bizarrely enough one of those things is video chatting – an effort to make interacting with people one does want to interact with easier. I’m no curmudgeon; I’m not trying to preach in favor of face-to-face contact being more meaningful than any other form (mostly because I assume people have realized this already) — especially when considering that I’ll always pick texting over a phone call.

But video chatting has steadily become one of the most horrific exercises of bonding that our tech-obsessed generation has come up. Neither the idea nor the practice of video chatting is particularly new: along with jet packs, hover cars, and stylish silver onesies, no depiction of the future is complete without a big face on a big screen (the screen: usually translucent with holographic buttons; the face: preferably bald). And when looking back at yesteryear, it wasn’t long until my AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger programs added a webcam option. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, but I anticipated I’d enjoy it so much more. That it would become an extension of online chatting, making it more intimate and personal, giving us the opportunity to be with one another no matter where we are.

Turns out it’s actually the most awkward 40-plus minutes you’ll spend in a given day. With video chatting you’re stuck eternally in monologue, not dialogue. When someone’s talking, you’re waiting for his or her mundane powerpoint-less presentation to be over before you can speak, because talking over one another during video chat is slightly less audible than talking over someone during a monster truck rally. And when two people do speak at once and realize it, they immediately both retreat out of politeness; causing a Hugh Grantian moment of excessive mutters and apologizes.

Once you get in the flow of it (which usually takes an ungodly twenty-minutes at least), it slowly dawns on you that your conversation has become an unofficial staring contest, forcing you and your chatmate to keep eyes on each other at all times. Casually glancing around or breaking eye contact so that the conversation doesn’t feel like a job interview is not an option; and due to social norms, you can’t video chat over coffee or lunch — it would be like the post-millennium “crazy or Bluetooth” equivalent, except the answer is always “crazy.”

And because of the wonders of present-day technology, video chat need not end, so eventually you’re unavoidably filling up non-existent time. There have been instances where my internet has mysteriously “given out” (read: “my-finger-hit-command-Q”) just so I could somehow end the conversation without being the one to end the conversation. Because there is a weird shame that comes across me when I have to end a video chat session. Considering that free time is a necessity to engage in the chat to begin with, ending a conversation abruptly unfortunately implies that I’m not interested in talking with my chatmate anymore, when the reality is that I simply can no longer pretend that talking while in sepia tone is fun. Photobooth effects during a video chat session is equal to trying to spice up a dying marriage’s sex life. Forgive me for still being bored even when your face is distorted by fish eye. If I wanted to waste my time looking at color and image distortions, I would just go on Tumblr.

But the reality is that my aversion to video chat is found in its attempts to blend together the distance of correspondence with the intimacy of actual interaction, and the results are too often disastrous for my easily analytical ass to handle. It’s like being permanently stoned, where every bit of my interaction (down to the most mundane aversion of eye contact) is not beyond keen observation. The disconnect firmly rooted in phone calls and texting provide me the kind of space it should be assumed I need if I’m not actively seeking out a friend. But video chat creates a simulated space where the neurosis and expectations of actual relationships exist in an environment that is too severely limited and structured for me to enjoy. Video chatting is ironically not in keeping with our generation’s presumed short attention span, considering that I find myself feeling awkward for multitasking when there’s a big face hovering behind glass, Zordon style. And between the statistical rise (note: this stat does not exist) of video chat screen shots become Facebook profile pictures, and the presumptuous desire for video chat to be available on our cell phones now, I, as is often the case for a Middle Easterner, find myself in a minority. Video chat is beloved and here to stay, and for as long as that’s the case I’m stuck with my aunt, yapping while I try not to blink. TC mark

More From Thought Catalog

  • habitualtruth

    yeah fuck shoes!

  • Guestropod

    video chatting is the worst.  It can be nice to get on for a second, wave high, see your mom for a few minutes but like… longer than that is brutal

    • Guestropod

      wave high???????  

  • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

    That’s what I hate. You have no excuse to leave or pretend someone is calling you.
    It makes it seem like such a boring drag, especially if you don’t know the person extremely well.

    Apart from that, I find myself staring at my video more than the other person.
    Not good for a self-conscious person when you can analyze how every move looks for the other person or worse, when there is an echo, how your voice sounds.

    It should be reserved for occasions as far apart as possible.

    • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

      not so bad for with as best or very good friend though. i don´t feel awkward saying i have to go or having moments of silence and each person doing other things.

  • Amro

    haha SOUNDS LIKE A PERSONAL PROBLEM.  i think you’re just awkward dude.  please don’t use the pronoun “you”

    • chauncey

      i agree…i don’t generally have problems when i video chat.  i feel like it’s not that hard to be like, “alright well i’m glad we got to talk…i’ll see you soon, right?” and peace the video chat shortly thereafter.  or maybe that’s just me?  

      • Amro

        im sure it depends on how comfortable you are as a person in general.  my videochats are usually really casual/neither party really has high expectations/i dont take them too seriously/we be chillinnn.  

        thats why its cute to see stuff like this hehe.

      • http://www.candicepayne.com Candice

        Definitely. With the right person you can be casual about it. Doesn’t matter that you’re sitting around in your pajamas, it’s not being broadcast on national television. If you slip up and forget that the chat is open in another window and pick your nose, whatever, you can laugh about it. And it definitely is fine to forget that the window is open. It should be like hanging out in your living room with someone you’re able to enjoy comfortable silence with. I’m reading, you’re watching TV… There’s no obligation to sit there and stare at the other person the whole time. But if  you come across something interesting or have something to say, Alt-Tab and there you go.

      • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

        I wish more people thought like you.

      • http://www.candicepayne.com Candice

        Nah. I don’t need the competition.

      • Chelsea

        Woops, I basically just posted the same thing below without reading the comments. Totally agree with you. I was an expat high school kid in China and so all my friends are scattered around the world after graduation, skype is somewhat of a lifesaver for me.

    • Matteo Malinverno

  • http://twitter.com/0mSweet0m Jennifer Fallingstar

    sweet!

  • http://sans.deadti.me/ Amy McDeath

    Pro tip: don’t look at the video. Instead, stare unblinkingly straight into the camera lens. Freak ’em out.

    Also: ditto. Can’t stand it. I just hate being fixed to a laptop. And I hate that people can see me without having a sense of their presence. On a few occasions I have forgotten they’re there, and then had a nasty jolt as I realised I wasn’t really on my own. Or might not have been, but that’s just as bad, panopticon eh?

  • Anonymous

    What’s up 1996 DFW:

    “Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation […] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove…

    […] Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener’s expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those caller who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking extra rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.”

    http://kottke.org/10/06/david-foster-wallace-on-iphone-4s-facetime

  • notit

    Hilarious. I’ve always been the odd one out who hated to Skype… and couldn’t quite put my finger onto why exactly until now. This is so spot on, dude. Really fluid and engaging prose, I’m looking forward to more of your work. :)

  • Anonymous

    ta.gg/55j

  • Olivia5670

    YOU READ MY MIND.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    I Skyped for the first time less than a week ago (I know, get with the times) with my friend who’s serving in Afghanistan.  In my mind, it was going to be an intense, emotional moment…I found it to be far from that.  There were delays in video and chat, making the flow completely unnatural…and for the reasons you’ve outlined, it was a disappointment.  I don’t know.  I guess I won’t be satisfied until he’s back. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    I Skyped for the first time less than a week ago (I know, get with the times) with my friend who’s serving in Afghanistan.  In my mind, it was going to be an intense, emotional moment…I found it to be far from that.  There were delays in video and chat, making the flow completely unnatural…and for the reasons you’ve outlined, it was a disappointment.  I don’t know.  I guess I won’t be satisfied until he’s back. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=46601588 Meghan McCrimmon

    I both agree and disagree with this.  I agree that the one-way data transfer that accompanies video chat can be frustrating and takes a bit of skill to master.  I skype with my parents quite often and my mother, bless her, still seems to think it works just as if I was in the room and will proceed to talk to me before I’ve finished speaking.  The “crazy or bluetooth” comment was so spot on I LOL’d.  Middle easterner comment: not sure that really comes across the way you wanted it to.
    I will say this, though – living far away from my family makes me eternally grateful that Skype exists.  It’s allowed me to stay in close contact with my parents and brother and sister over the course of this year.  I don’t think I could have handled being so far away from home without it.  There’s no doubt that it will continue to make all the difference in the coming years as I continue to build my life and career being far away from them. 

  • Chelsea

    I don’t really agree with this. This all applies for skyping with people you don’t know all that well, but skyping with close friends (that CAN include family depending on the relationship) can be great. With close friends you don’t HAVE to be staring at the screen, you don’t HAVE to feel awkward about accidentally talking at the same time. I don’t know, just pick and choose who you skype with/stop thinking about it so much.

  • Sophia

    I found this to be incredibly accurate, even with my closest friends. Bravo for eloquently highlighting the intangible things about Skype that I, too, dislike.

blog comments powered by Disqus