Mobility, Video, and the ‘Zees’

Danto mobile_450x300Late last year I authored and edited an article on the topic of mobile video technology [PDF]. I made the point that none of us plans to go around holding our smartphone at arm’s length while riding the bus. The exact quote was, “We all pictured how ridiculous it would be with everyone on a public bus holding a phone at arm’s length and having conversations with people that are not present.” Well, after watching this Verizon commercial on TV I’m not so sure anymore.

The commercial shows a big sister on what must be an all-day video call with her little brother, giving him hints and tips on his first day of high school. It’s easy to debunk the commercial based on the implausibles: No high school student has the money to afford that much cellular bandwidth; no one would put up with the open speaker he’s walking around with (as he’s not wearing a headset); and heck, no big-sister was EVER that helpful to a younger brother (trust me, I know from personal experience).

But if you can, look beyond all of that “poetic license” and pick-up the message they’re illustrating—it may prove my original premise about video and buses wrong.

The next-next generation that will eventually join the workforce may be OK with having video conversations in public. (I’m not sure what to call them. What comes after Generation X and Generation Y? Generation Z?) This next generation has never lived in a world without videoconferencing. Where the TV set was my de-facto babysitter, these “Zees” were entertained by the iPad. Where my children had to be taught how to use a mouse as toddlers, these Zees will never know a screen that can’t be controlled by touch and gestures. I suppose it is a logical assumption that they will be OK with video chats in public (but the arbiter of that logic will have to be their Spock, not my Spock). There are many precedents for odd or exclusive technology experiences working their way into cultural norms.

For example, I remember the first time I used a cellular phone in public. I was traveling by train from New York to Rhode Island in the late 1980s to inventory some equipment for my firm. I hate to travel dressed-up, so I was in jeans and a flannel shirt. I did all the work that I had to and had a couple of hours to kill before taking the train back. I went into a restaurant next to the train station—a financial industry / businessman’s hangout –and asked for a table. I was the only person in the restaurant who wasn’t wearing a yellow tie and people looked at me as if I was a leper.

Then, after everybody finally stopped staring, my briefcase started to ring. I unpacked a transportable cellular phone—the one I carried to help coordinate broadcast operations—and answered a call from one of my engineers. I suddenly went from leper to eccentric status in the eyes of the suits. They all understood that only very special people carried portable phones.

Cut to just 16 years later, during the tragic Hurricane Katrina disaster. I can remember seeing stranded people on TV news shows—people who said they didn’t have enough money to catch a bus out of town—calling for help from their cell phones. In just 16 years, the absolute latest technology moved from ultra-exclusive to being so common it would be weird if people in all socioeconomic situations didn’t have it—as common as a pair of jeans.

There’s no reason to think that using video while we’re on the run can’t make that same cultural leap. It is rare today to see people using video in public. I participate in meetings from wherever I am (like at the airport, pictured above), and some of my clients have made the leap to video anywhere, but it is still rare.

Video service firms are clearly starting to position mobile videoconferencing and video chat as common and normal, hoping culture then adopts it as the norm. So Verizon’s fictitious, helpful big sister is really just meant to get these Zees used to the idea that video anywhere is OK.

They’re not the only ones with that message. Another video services firm, Blue Jeans Network, has also produced a spot intended to do the same thing for businesses. The Roominator is a hilarious promotional production on YouTube that shows how mobile video is an essential part of today’s work-life balance.

You can expect to see even more firms in the video space encouraging you to take your calls using video from wherever you are. The technology is only getting better. If you’re not one of the Zees, I suggest you force yourself to give it a try and see the value of any video – and any content – anywhere. If you’re old enough, you can then be like me—someone who has actually played a record and dialed a phone but still can embrace the change technology brings and use it to transform businesses and organizations.

This blog post originally appeared on David’s blog. It’s reprinted here with his permission.

About David Danto

David Danto has over 30 years of experience providing problem-solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds, including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology.

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