Craig Wilson had a piece in the July 8 USA Today addressing Skype and video phones. He was relishing the days when a phone call didn’t require any primping or preening and when one’s whereabouts could remain a secret (“No, honey, I’m still at the office.”)
I know what you’re thinking, “Cell phones are enough of a distraction. Why make them more so?” Because video is LESS distracting.
Why is it that I can sit in my car and carry on a perfectly normal conversation with my passenger without degrading my driving performance? Why am I more dangerous talking on a phone, even if it’s a speaker phone or a Bluetooth? Where does the increased distraction come from?
I believe it’s visualization. When there is a passenger next to me, I use my peripheral vision to take in non-verbal feedback–the tilt of the head, the smile, the nods of agreement. I also have the person to whom I’m talking in context–I know where they are and what they’re doing.
When I speak on the phone, I have to engage my imagination on a limited basis to create a “mental” picture of the person to whom I’m speaking. I have to make mental calculations about a person’s reactions. I have to LISTEN more intently. In fact, just keeping track of WHO it is I have on the phone requires a small part of my brain to engage to constantly retain their identity.
Think about it the next time you’re driving and talking on the phone. You’ll find yourself 5 miles down the road wondering how you got there, because the part of your mind that should be dedicated to taking in your environment on the road has actually been engaged in “picturing” the person on the line.
This is where Skype comes in.
I have a Garmin GPS stuck to my windshield. Imagine, now, that this same GPS hardware had a small video camera and had the ability to access the internet via a 3G network like an iPhone. If I could access Skype in my car I could see the person to whom I’m talking–I would no longer need to engage my brain to create an artificial picture of that person, I could use my peripheral vision. I would be creating a scenario much more analogous to having a passenger than having a phone conversation.
Given the way our brains operate and process information, I don’t think the day is too far off when manufacturers discover that this is actually a LESS distracting way to carry on a conversation and then begin to develop portable GPSs or factory-installed navigation screens that have this capability. Throw in the new advances in voice-activated dialing like we’re seeing on the latest iPhones and we may have finally found a way to make cell phones and cars complimentary rather than antagonistic.
Anyone want to start a company with me?