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.