Thursday, July 15, 2010

We were totally lied to by our album covers!

I use Skype video to stay in touch with my far-flung family. I was just thinking about how video communication appeared in futuristic films when I was a kid. Take, for example, this shot from 2001: A Space Odyssey:

(I took it from this clip:

Notice anything funny? Something that doesn't match our real experiences with Skype? She's looking at us. 

In real, face-to-face communication, we look each other in the eye. I look at you and see you looking back at me.

When I Skype with my brother, I look at the picture of him on my screen. But the picture he sees isn't taken from my screen, it's taken from my camera, which is usually on the top of the monitor. So to him it looks like I'm looking down instead of looking directly at him.

In the videophone sequence in 2001, and in just about every other videophone scene in a movie ever, the person  on the other side is looking at a camera. It looks natural, but it almost never happens.

Recent media seems to be getting this right. For example, this NSFW video by Morningwood (

I've noticed that the larger my screen is, the worse it gets, as that tends to increase the gap between the camera and the picture. I have taken to shrinking the Skype window and putting it as close to the camera as possible, to make it look more natural on the other side.

I wonder how long it will take for technology to make this easy? I wonder what technology it will require?

Maybe when digital cameras become dirt-cheap (like $0.01) and microscopic, we can make an LCD display with an array of cameras embedded in a matrix across it. Then the software can track the eyes of the person on the other side, and pick the camera closest to those eyes.
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