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Poor Connections: A long history of videotelephony (cabinetmagazine.org)
41 points by autokill 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 4 comments

Yeah, this is all interesting in relation to a collectively shared idea of the future.

Growing up in the 70s, video phones were like flying cars and jet packs. Things right around the corner but never to arrive over the 80s, 90s and 2000s. Could be seen on The Jetsons, represent progress, a progress we saw clearly on TV, a recent invention itself.

And now, unlike flying cars and jetpacks, video phones have arrived. Not with a bang but with a whimper - no one actually looks forward to a video call, I'd guess.

And flying cars and jetpacks? They're not impossible, just absurdly dangerous and less likely because of this.

And video phones are similarly not actually desirable, just less extreme. Between 70s and the 2000s, I think most people figured out that video phones didn't exist 'cause unlike TV, they would be weird and awkward and unpleasant.

The big thing is that, very roughly, ~1850~1950 saw an incredible transformation of the infrastructure of daily life. The gas/electric stove, the gas/electric light bulb, the train and the automobile and beyond saw an incredible transformation of the physical environment in which people lived. After this period, technology has continued but the modernized items are improvements rather than fundamental innovations (with the exception of the Internet, which didn't change physical space).

It seems like the "science fiction world" of Robert Heinlein and others was very much a linear extrapolation of this earlier period of changing physical infrastructure - from sea ports to star port. Now, it's more obvious that if the physical structure of daily life changes, it's going to be following a different curve and transforming different things. The Internet, for example, was a vast change but it augmented, not supplanted, earlier tech.

Here, I think the main thing that hasn't caught up are certain kinds of imagination. The proponents of "Fermi's paradox" still imagines every intelligent species will "reach for the stars" despite the lack of evidence of any having done so.

But still it's interesting to consider.

> with the exception of the Internet, which didn't change physical space.

Well, I would argue a lot changes due to the internet, physically. Apart from the infrastructure needed for it, it surely has an impact on commerce. Larger and smaller stores vanish, the shopping experience of many changed drastically.

Due to information being accessible all time and from around the world it has an impact on libraries, print related industries.

I am sure that there are even more examples.

Someone from 1960 who suddenly showed up in 2020 wouldn't have to learn much for operations of day-to-day life (they might not even have to change their sartorial tastes).

Someone from 1900 who suddenly showed up in 1960 would have much more to learn about household electrification and individual transportation[1][2] (and would definitely have to change their sartorial tastes).

I'm typing this on a writing desk in a room with bookshelves. The internet vastly decreases the latency of our correspondence and vastly increases the amount of reference material to which I have access, but what we're doing isn't qualitatively much removed from what Erasmus or Montaigne presumably did with colleagues in their spare time.

[1] An amusing anecdote from a biography of the Irvine family: the younger members all adapted to the motor vehicle readily enough (1880-1920 having only been 40 years), but one of the older ones, instead of turning the key off, insisted on stopping cars by putting them in high gear and turning them uphill, treating them as if they were runaway broncs.


[2] At least, assuming they do any of that stuff themselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he4WPvKGGR0 is set ca. 1970 (despite precociously using Zoom?) but they still (1:06) have household help.

The famous videophone scene from Kurick's 2001, from 1968:


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