Emotional bandwidth

Jeremy Allaire has been experimenting with two versions of a Flash-based video mail app. The first uses Flash 6 for capture. The second uses a pro capture tool. Clearly the second is far better. But on my DSL link, the second version's audio/video synch still leaves a lot to be desired.

The problem that Jeremy is tackling is of major importance. In a paper written years ago, Mitch Kapor called it the problem of emotional bandwidth . Jeremy amplifies the theme here on his blog:

What's missing from this example, of course, are the richer kinds of emotional cues that are crucial to the approval and review process for information products such as designs -- the furrowed brow, the grimace, the frowning, the eyes of delight; read: the emotional impact of seeing and hearing people. [ Jeremy Allaire's Radio ]

Some years ago, I thought that the telephone network -- which does convey decent emotional bandwidth in the voice realm -- would end up peering with data networks. A 1996 story for BYTE laid out some reasons for this architecture. The high quality of voice in a circuit-switched network was a key consideration. Even slight dropouts on an audio channel have terrible effects on the emotional connection. Another reason was call control. The telephone handset makes a lousy UI for controlling the services available on that network. The acid test: can you set up a multiway conference call without losing somebody? It was so bad we finally gave up trying doing it ourselves, and began signing up for conference bridges.

Now it's six years after the "Year of Computer Telephony." What's changed? The consumer Internet still is not, so far as I can see, a reliable alternative to the telephone for transmission of high-quality voice. Of course, now that everybody's using cellphones, high-quality voice isn't what it used to be either. So I guess there's no going back. Even if we could make our computers bridge our voice and data networks, the notion is less compelling than it once was. We'll just have to wait until those networks can, finally, be put together. The irony, of course, is that my voice circuit and my DSL data circuit are already traveling over the same pair of Verizon copper wires. (Well, most of the way, then radio -- cordless phone, and sometimes WiFi Ethernet -- takes it the last few yards.)

So close, and yet so far.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2002/10/01.html#a430