Why video telephones never...

Forbes had a good bunch of articles about the future lately. Among them, the on about why video telephones never took off (even though they have been pushed on the public for more than 40 years) is quite interesting. The author, Neil Steinberg describes some reasons ranging from bad phone service, need for big bandwidth and need to have people with the device as well ("To invest in a PicturePhone for yourself was about as useful as buying one shoe," notes technology writer Jonathan Margolis). What is interesting there is how Steinberg highlight the problem of "futurism" in this context:

"Futurism has a tendency to take the products of today and merely extrapolate them. Thus TV becomes 3-D TV, cars become flying cars and telephones become video telephones. Sometimes it takes the sanity of the marketplace to dash cold water on those technological projections. We were all going to take our nutrition in pills until someone realized that preparing and consuming food was one of the primary joys of life, and no one wants to swallow food pills. (...) future marvels of the past--food pills, jet packs, flying cars and, yes, video telephones--have an inertia that reality doesn't seem to be able to completely thwart. They manage to be both old and repudiated, yet somehow retain their cachet as attractive potential future wonders. Video phones remain a real possibility--if they wish, people placing phone calls over the Internet can already see each other using Webcams. It's easy to imagine this becoming standard practice.

Or not. Because no matter how cheap and easy pervasive computer technology makes video telephones, they still bump up against one central issue: whether people will want to see and be seen by those they communicate with. "People did not want to comb their hair to answer the telephone," said Lucky in an interview with Bill Moyers. Of course that could change, too, and wouldn't it be ironic if the breakthrough to popular video telephony ended up not being any technological advance, but a shift in human vanity. Once we stop combing our hair when we go out, then we'll finally embrace video telephones. "

Why do I blog this? critical foresight is about exactly this: understanding the reasons WHY something did happened or not happened, hence I always like reading about this sort of story. To some extent, "failed futurism" is one of my favorite topic.