Apple’s introduction of FaceTime, their videophone protocol in the forthcoming iPhone 4, reminds me of this great passage in David Foster Wallace’s [book: Infinite Jest]:
> (1) It turned out there there was something terribly stressful about visual telephone interfaces that hadn’t been stressful at all about voice-only interfaces. Videophone consumers seemed suddenly to realize that they’d been subject to an insidious but wholly marvelous delusion about conventional voice-only telephony. They’d never noticed it before, the delusion – it’s like it was so emotionally complex that it could be countenanced only in the context of its loss. Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation – utilizing a hand-held phone whose earpiece contained only 6 little pinholes but whose mouthpiece (rather significantly, it later seemed) contained (62) or 36 little pinholes – let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet – and this was the retrospectively marvelous part – even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided. During a traiditional call, e.g., as you let’s say performed a close tactile blemish-scan of your chin, you were in no way oppressed by the thought that your phonemate was perhaps also devoting a good percentage of her attention to a close tactile blemish-scan. It was an illusion and the illusion was aural and aurally supported: the phone-line’s other end’s voice was dense, tightly compressed, and vectored right into your ear, enabling you to imagine that the voice’s owner’s attention was similarly compressed and focused … even though your own attention was *not*, was the thing. This bilateral illusion of unilateral attention was almost infantilely gratifying from an emotional standpoint: you got to believe you were receiving somebody’s complete attention without having to return it. Regarded with the objectivity of hindsight, the illusion appears arational, almost literally fantastic: it would be like being able both to lie and to trust other people at the same time.
This is only the beginning of a several-pages-long discussion of why videophones (from the future-retrospective stance) failed. People notice first that they look really gross on camera. Then they get self-conscious, so they wear masks when they’re on their videophones. This makes them terrified to meet people in real life, because those people will discover that they’ve been lied to during their videophone chats. So people stay indoors. There are a few other steps in there that I forget (and Google Books is no help), but the end result is that society eventually makes one big coordinated move to drop its videophones.
(You really need to read [book: Infinite Jest]. It’s one of those books that everyone knows about but few read. You should be one of the few to read it. I reviewed it on Amazon back in 2001.)
By the way: I’ve been considering switching to any of the new Android phones when my AT&T contract expires in August, but the new iPhone seals the deal for Apple.