Telepresence and Multitasking, Natural Enemies

Convergence Corner

Telepresence and Multitasking, Natural Enemies

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  March 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

A recent episode of Big Bang (News - Alert) Theory got me thinking, is video communication really the next logical evolution of voice? It was an episode during which Sheldon Cooper engaged in several video calls, both via mobile device and laptop.

Of course, video conferencing provides a unique forum for increased understanding and collaboration, thanks to face-to-face communications and asset sharing capabilities. Indeed, conference rooms and executive suites and offices with telepresence capabilities offer businesses enhanced communications environments, enabling them to function and make decisions more effectively.

And of course, despite the economy and the communications market beginning to rebound from the recession, businesses are hardly likely to increase their budgets any more than absolutely necessary, now that they have learned how to do more with less.

So yes, video communications get a definite “thumbs up” for conference room-type scenarios, where there is a need for multi-party engagement, including complete telepresence suites (for those businesses that can afford them). The caveat is that vendor interop is required to allow more businesses to enjoy the benefits more frequently, but that is already in the works (much like increased carrier peering will drive the growth of HD voice).

Big Bang Theory provided yet another viable video communications scenario, whereby friends and families are very likely to leverage video capabilities on their mobile devices and PCs, though they will tend towards free services, like Skype (News - Alert) and others.

There’s a reason that Facetime has received as much attention as it has. There are countless use cases for consumer video calling, including saying good night to children while traveling on business, sharing experiences (like a baby’s first steps) with other family members, or simply chatting via video with your closest friends, as opposed to voice-only calls.

But that may be where video calling hits a firewall, so to speak.

When it comes to desktop solutions, there may be occasional uses for video calls – though most will likely still fall into the “familiar” category – conversations with family members or crossover colleagues (those who also might be considered friends).

Think about your own recent conference calls and lengthier phone conversations with colleagues or clients. Odds are, you have engaged in other, unrelated activities during those interactions – multitasking. Yes, multitasking is nothing more than taking some of the attention away from one task and focusing it on another in an effort to get more done in the same amount of time.

It’s a fact of life today. But, it’s also a barrier to personal video solutions. After all, as you check emails, sign invoices, read the latest issue if InfoTECH Spotlight, even put the call on mute to answer questions for a colleague who may have stepped in – or whatever else you find yourself doing as you “multitask” – do you really want the other party on the call to know they do not have your undivided attention?

Try as you may, it is impossible to give two people your undivided attention. 

Now, I’m not saying it’s always poor judgment to do so – there are many instances where peripheral conversations take place during multi-party calls that involve only some attendees. Why not maximize on the time to accomplish other goals?

Don’t feel bad. I’m not trying to portray multitasking as something evil. Just be aware that, as surely as you multitask while on calls, you are on the other end of the same scenario with equal frequency. I repeat, it’s the world in which we live – do more with less.

It’s that very mantra that will preclude personal video calling from having the same impact in the business space as it will in the consumer markets. Then again, I’m not entirely certain that most calls would be enhanced due to video presence – the ability to multitask while getting as much from a call as we need is what helps us maintain productivity.

Sure, there are very viable scenarios where personal telepresence or desktop video increases results – especially in certain vertical markets for certain tasks (e.g., healthcare and education). But, for most, the overall benefits will not justify the cost. For those situations where video presence will be a significant benefit, conference room video systems will suffice for now.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi