Saturday, February 20, 2010

TV on Acid

I vividly remember a lurid magazine cover from the early fifties, declaring that we’d all have flying cars by the mid-sixties. I used to feel cheated that this exciting consumer technology never materialized, but these days I’m thankful that nobody has a flying car. The reason I’m thankful has nothing to do with terrorism or infrastructure. I’m concerned about economics. Let me explain.

Another futuristic prediction of the fifties was video conferencing. This concept enabled people all over the world to actually see one another in real time, at a moment’s notice, without the burdensome hassles of traveling to some common meeting place in a flying car.

My new company makes extensive use of video conferencing to conduct meetings and presentations with personnel in far-flung locations. In fact, when I was interviewing for this position, one of the managers in New Jersey interviewed me this way.

Each of our offices has at least one conference room with a large television screen on one wall and a camera mounted above it. The camera system includes a wireless controller box that enables an operator to pan, zoom and focus, manage the audio feed and switch between the camera view and a presentation on a computer. It all seems so incredibly cool and irresistible, but there are two depressing problems.

The first problem (and in hindsight, the most obvious problem) is that almost all high-ranking corporate executives think they are compelling television personalities. So the technology isn’t used in any meaningful way. Instead, most of the time, some guy in a suit stands behind a podium and reads bullet points from a PowerPoint presentation.

The second problem only exacerbates the first. Economics decrees that technology doesn’t have to be good, it only has to be good enough. So despite all of the nifty hardware, the video quality sucks. It all starts out OK, although rather blurry, jerky and flat. Despite sitting through hours of these presentations, I’m not convinced that I would recognize any of the presenters on the street.

teleconference 1

But then, weird imaging errors and artifacts begin to creep in, and the video begins to deteriorate.

teleconference 4

I’m not going to talk about my college years, but before long, the video feed takes on a hallucinogenic quality. The images no longer represent human beings, but terrifying blood demons from another dimension.

teleconference 3

Strangely, the audio is always perfect, providing a soothing, reliable, mantra-like drone that keeps viewers from bolting out of their chairs.

Economics proved that best-selling car in history was also the cheapest: The original Volkswagen Beetle. If flying cars ever became a reality, they’d be small, uncomfortable and dangerous. But they’d probably have really good audio systems.

1 comment:

Chris said...

You had to bail early at lunch...for that?