Why we hate video calls

Good piece in the New Scientist about why we’ve always hated video calls:

When another New York Times reporter went to Pittsburgh in mid-1971, however, he found only 33 Picturephones in operation, with just 12 able to dial outside their own buildings. Aside from impracticalities such as cost, it seemed that, against all predictions, no one actually wanted video calling. Users were more interested in seeing graphics than face-to-face video conversation. At Bell Labs, Lucky recalls that the only person who called his Picturephone was his boss, Arno Penzias. “I found it very awkward because I had to stare at him,” he says.

More than that, I think the enduring non-appeal of video is that it doesn’t start to replace talking face to face. Face to face talking is not about seeing the other person, or looking them in the eyes — it’s about non-verbal communication — gestures, body language, touching, etc. It’s also about allowing other things to intervene — movement, distraction, interaction with objects.

Video calls are exhausting, because you are trying to replace all that with just maintaining eye contact, or at least giving the appearance of remaining engaged. It’s a new form of communication, and we’ve tried and rejected it. Whenever Cisco drag me over to their HQ for some elaborate video conference I always feel it’s a waste of time, and a major overengineering of a flawed medium.

Talking on the phone, meanwhile, suits us perfectly (although I’ve come to hate it almost as much as video calling.) As George Costanza once said, after going through a phone conversation with a blind date:

George: She had to be impressed by that conversation, had to! It was a great performance. I am unbelievable on the phone. On the date they should just have two phones on the table at the restaurant, done.

Phone calls have become useful because we are able to transfer a lot of the body language and non-verbal cues into speech (and silence). We’re still working on text chat, but we’re getting there. It works — it’s not exhausting. It’s communicating what we want to communicate, and filtering out what we don’t — and not reading, at least for the most part, anything into anything else.

Evernote Makes Employee Reading of Messages Opt-in

Evernote has been through the wringer with its decision to add machine learning to its repertoire, effectively trying to pave the way to added services based on scanning the contents of users’ notes. Users were not happy, not least because Evernote made it opt-out. The settings looked like this: 

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Evernote has now had a change of heart, rather coyly calling it Evernote Revisits Privacy Policy Change in Response to Feedback: No longer would it implement the planned Privacy Policy changes for January 23.

“Instead, in the coming months we will be revising our existing Privacy Policy to address our customers’ concerns, reinforce that their data remains private by default, and confirm the trust they have placed in Evernote is well founded. In addition, we will make machine learning technologies available to our users, but no employees will be reading note content as part of this process unless users opt in. We will invite Evernote customers to help us build a better product by joining the program.”

It’s probably the best solution in the circumstances, but it was poorly handled, and reflected a lack of understanding, once again, of what the product is. Evernote is simply that: a place where you can store your notes forever. That needs to be paramount. Anything else needs to support that, and not undermine it. 

Users’ reaction was becaues they prized privacy and security above other layers of features and services that may arise from running semantic engines and whatnot over Evernote. And certainly doing it via opt-out, and a privacy policy that raised suspicions.

I personally would love to see more done with my notes — complex search is still poor, finding similar notes is still poor — but I need, and I’m sure I’m not alone — to be confident Evernote isn’t going to do anything weird with my stash without my permission. Especially have employees poring over them. 

Turn off location in iOS, and Uber doesn’t work

(Update: Uber say they are looking into it.) 

Buzzfeed says Privacy Advocates Want Uber To Stop Tracking Users After Rides End but Uber responds that “by offering the option of manually entering pick-up locations, the company is giving users a choice to be tracked or not.”

It quotes Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director and general counsel at EFF, as saying that this ‘takes away a lot of the usability.’ Part of Uber’s appeal is how easy it is to open the app and let GPS pinpoint your location for a driver. ‘As you’re trying to get picked up by the side of the road, you might not know what address you’re at,’ Opsahl said. ‘I guess you could turn it on and off again…but that’s pretty clunky as well.’”

I’d agree, and have found in my tests that it’s worse than that: turn location off, and the app no longer works. 

First off, here are the options, as described in settings in iOS:

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So it’s either Always or Never. Nothing in between. Turn to Never and things not only get clunky — meaning that you’re prompted by dire warnings every few minutes, but after a day or two you start to get blank screens, like these when you try to book an Uber. 

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I’ve reached out to Uber for an explanation.