Video Chat Is Helping Us Stay Connected in Lockdown. But the Tech Was Once a ‘Spectacular Flop’Roundup
tags: technology, COVID19, Video Chat
What reporters witnessed in a New York City auditorium on April 7, 1927 was a fundamentally startling notion: seeing someone speak—from hundreds of miles away—in real time. When then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover appeared on screen from Washington, D.C., he declared that “human genius has now destroyed the impediment of distance in a new respect, and in a manner hitherto unknown.”
“It was as if a photograph had suddenly come to life and begun to talk, smile, nod its head and look this way and that,” the New York Times marveled.
In retrospect, we might deem that the moment video calling was born.
But few conceived of the technology being utilized by average Americans. Sure, it was a “phenomenal feat,” according to the Boston Globe—but one with “no definite purpose.” Nonetheless, AT&T president Walter Gifford, who received the call from Hoover, confidently predicted that “in due time it will be found to add substantially to human comfort and happiness.”
He likely could not have imagined just how right he was. The world has turned to modern iterations of that first video call to connect socially during COVID-induced quarantine. Daytime teleworkers transition seamlessly into happy hour revelers; birthdays are celebrated and lost ones mourned on virtual platforms. Zoom, the video-meeting platform that has come to symbolize this shift, says the company added 100 million participants in just the first three weeks of April. The pandemic has further entrenched our digital saturation.
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