FaceTime and similar video calls can be great when you want to talk to someone but can’t meet them analogically face to face. Or if you are Deaf, use sign language, or are a lipreader. But video calls aren’t always so great.
Yet it’s surprised people when I’ve told them I hate video calls. It should not be that difficult to understand why.
A video call should be always previously agreed on. If you just initiate a video call and are surprised why the other person doesn’t reply, guess what? There are many reasons for that. Maybe you forgot which timezone they (or you) live. Maybe it’s 5 at night and they are sleeping, in the darkness. Or maybe they are not wearing clothes, or are in the bathroom, or in a loud place, or just have a really bad bandwidth. Maybe they don’t have makeup on, or they are in a cinema, or doing grocery shopping, or are driving or crossing a road. If you don’t at least send a text, or offer a voice call (if deaf, go with text), don’t just get uppity when you don’t always get a reply.
How to use video calls
- Agree on time and date beforehand. Doesn’t matter if it will be a job interview or a personal call. And just to be polite, don’t omit you want or need it to be a video call. Preparing for a voice call is different from preparing for a video call, and it’s valid for both personal and job related calls. It is acceptable to text “Hey [name], can we FaceTime now or later in the evening? Like 7PM your time?”
- On the agreed time, preferably voice or text first. “Can I FaceTime/Skype etc you now?”. Wait for a reply, then initiate the video call.
- Introduce everyone that’s listening and/or is in the same room. “Hi, I’m Jim, and here’s my fiancee Alice” (when Alice would wave and say hi etc). Do the same for everyone. Don’t assume the other person can see everyone, or will recognize them from face with no voice, or have a clue of what their role is (if for job, or project, etc). And if you have people just observing, it would be nice to know of it too. After all these introductions and greetings are done, continue.
- Remember that not everyone can see you. And not everything you see is about you. Don’t overly analyze the facial expressions of the others – they might not see you, or they are maybe processing what to say, or they may be in a place where they have to restrict their facial range, or they are also simply trying to do other things than just look at you or pretend to look at you. If I’m on a video call, unless it’s a previously agreed one, and I’m in a spot where I can comfortably know where the camera is and can control the sounds and background action, you probably end up just staring at the ceiling or my backpack pocket. I haven’t found a way to restrict a video call to be just audio, so I most likely won’t be holding the phone, especially in the “Correct” direction, and doing all that staring in the usual manner. I’ll be listening and talking using most likely wireless headphones and that’s it (so it should have been an encrypted audio call to begin with. Unless there is a very good reason). And if I can’t see you, why would I want you to see me?
Situations when it’s OK to cold video call people
- Never. If you have something to say, you can text it, or share a photo with a description, or email, or voice call. And that includes everything from anyone being born to dying.
Reasons I have not answered (cold called) video calls
- Doing something else that can’t be interrupted, and as the call was not preplanned, I hadn’t planned for interruptions (anything from writing, working, listening to something that can’t be paused, to being on a call, to running)
- Not being in a place where it’s safe to start a video call (such as crossing a road, or walking on busy sidewalk)
- Being in a place where it would be rude to take any calls (like bus or a movie theatre)
- Being in a place where it’s too loud (like a restaurant)
- It’s not an hour when people should be calling (such as 5AM. I don’t care if it’s afternoon where you live, but at 5AM I want to sleep, uninterrupted)
- I don’t have appropriate clothes or made up face or hair etc (I don’t care if you are a blood relative; I don’t want to answer calls in whatever I’m wearing or not wearing while sleeping for instance)
- Not having enough bandwidth (especially if traveling)
- Roaming. (Video calls use a lot of data, so doing them while roaming abroad is horribly expensive)
- I don’t know the caller (notice how this is not the top reason. All those other reasons have been more prominent and annoying)
- Just can’t talk. (Too tired to talk in any language/ too tired to switch to try to talk in another language/ just don’t have the spoons to talk with anyone at all. Texting will still be ok)
- Having previously agreed on other forms of communication (“Text, or use FaceTime Audio” means don’t use video calls)
- Not enough spoons to deal with people (can be overcome to some degree with previous planning. But not on the fly)
It’s curious how the acceptable communication styles and orders have changed over the years.
When I was a kid, you could go and check if someone was around. Then when people had phones, you were supposed to call. Then when everyone had their own phone, you were supposed to call the person. Then texting came along, and now video and all these other formats… times change, and the cultural expectations change too. It’d be curious to find how much research there is in all these acceptable order of communication in the era of smartphones and video calls. and how much things such as culture, country, and the age of the people matter in these things.
What about you? My dislike of video calls is highly based on the frustrations of being stared at while I can’t see the ones who stare, with added traumas of occasionally displaying a “wrong” type of facial expression, even when just trying to listen and process what I hear. It seems those can get just amplified on a video call, whereas on a voice call I would still have the benefit of “not seeing you” but being able to read more on the voice (when I know the person and can detect e.g. when they might lie) patterns. Although even voice calls get to be frustrating because of having to switch the language (especially if using one I rarely use in daily life), having to put on the “tone of voice” thing to sound more typical to people in the country I live in, or when trying to deal with anything on the phone with people I don’t know…. text seems always the easiest choice.