Technical advances in the scientific field serve a dire need first and then those totems of communication and facilitation trickle down to the mainstream.  The Deaf popularized pagers first, followed by the Hearing community in everyday business, then there was the move to SMS in cellphones and today, the new trend is video conferencing in your iPhone or iPad.  The image below shows the first TTY — teletypewriter — that the Deaf used to communicate with each other in end-to-end conversations.

“End-to-end” means each person had to have one of those massive machines in their homes in order to have what they were typing translated into text.  The Associated Press and United Press International used similar devices to deliver “text news” to radio and television stations across the nation.

Those big teletext machines shrank over time to become the size of a phone book and the TTY machine was found in every Deaf household as the standard communication device for over 30 years.

With the rise of the free Federal videophone service over the last seven years, the Deaf community were finally able to start daily live video communication with each other long before there was a FaceTime App or iOS devices.

Now that the videophone has matured, the TTY is out, and FaceTime is on the rise — and what modern Deaf person wouldn’t want to take their “videophone” with them everywhere they went?  Who wants to be tethered to a clunky Sorenson videophone camera and ethernet cable at home when you can communicate with your friends while walking down the street?

If you wanted to buy a TTY today, you would have a hard time — not necessarily finding one, but rather finding someone else who had one so you could communicate end-to-end.  The TTY is dead.  SMS is dead.  Email is dead.  Live video is in — but is that really what we want just because it is becoming ubiquitous?

Live video is a return to the nag of the traditional telephone call — sure, you can delay the call or force the caller to leave a message — but it sort of takes a lot of effort to return a live video call, it’s usually easier, and simpler, to just answer the call, but then you’re no longer in control of your schedule.  Those who video call you once again take the upper hand in touched communication.

Video calls also raise the somewhat sticky notion of personal presentation.  Just like people used to ride airplanes in suits and ties, and people now wear pajamas to fly cross-country, so too, has video calling changed from combed hair and a proper appearance presentation to people appearing unkempt and disheveled when they call.  Sometimes, a voice call and a TTY call are preferable if you don’t want to see the filthy way some of your friends and associates live in their homes.

Video calls will start to replace the standard telephone call for everyone in a few years, and we will all start to follow the Deaf and the transition into “Live IP Living” where we will always be “on” the internet and we will have to always be available and, we hope, at least near a mirror so we can do a quick pick-me-up before we turn our faces to an ever-infringing, recorded, world.


  1. Your last paragraph reminds me of two things. One, of my father, who still has no mobile phone nor call waiting service — he says if people want to reach him, they will reach him when it is mutually convenient and not only convenient for one person! Two, of the holy Sabbath, that twenty five hours every week when I am entirely off the internet and enjoy real quality Face Time — face to face with my friends and family! 🙂

    (This entire article also reminds me of your nearly 17 year old article about living in the Golden Age of the Internet)

    1. I’m thinking the line between not being bothered and being bothered is going to quickly diminish over the next decade. We will be stuck with being always on and always watched and we will have to pick one mask and wear it all day every day. The notion of downtime or private moments will rapidly diminish unless, as you suggest, we just totally disconnect for legal or religious reasons.

  2. I remember talking about something similar before – ………………..

    I have moved on a little since then. I do use skype to talk to my children sometimes especially if my grandchildren are around and I have a couple of friends back in the UK with whom I am comfortable enough with to sit back and chill with as if we were in the same room.

    I have one friend a medical consultant who used Face Time to get his latest locum position.

    I still prefer the written word ,especially in a work setting or where I do not know people THAT well.

    1. MSFT is now pushing Skype to all users as the de facto messaging engine on their service. Text chat is out.

      Google+ video hangouts are now the hot way to communicate during the day.

      I agree all these things are ways of pushing us together in real time. My office becomes your living room and our outside friends bring us the water and the wind and the entire earth becomes our new reality.

      I just think we need to have some social rules in place to help make it a positive experience. I really don’t want to talk to people on video who are in bed, or just awakened or eating. One Deaf friend actually still texts to other people while having a videophone conversation — the ultimate disconnection connection.

  3. It will be what we allow it to be.

    Soial rules are a must in this developing arena – it is very much like the rest of the tecnological and indeed the industrial revoloution – we all get carried away without knowing what the consequenes are going to be. Unless we stamp our personal rules on how we embrace this – or not social patterns could change and go into directions we do not want them to go.

    We are already handing law enforcemnt agencies a lot of information they have been dying to get their hands on via Facebook and other social media and other not so lawful agencies

    1. That’s a good link for a Panopticonic category article, Nicola! SMILE!

      I agree our personal freedoms are at stake. I can imagine the day when a police search and seizure is done entirely through your two-way television.

  4. arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh walked into that one !!!

    That is scary thought – more scary is someone in a group video chat seeing something they like on your bookshelf or mantlepeice and then organising to steal it ……………… if the police are using the system you can bet the criminals are too.

    1. Right! Create your own generic video chat backgrounds! SMILE!

      There is/was a secret room at AT&T where 100% of all internet traffic was intercepted and recorded during the G. W. Bush presidency — all in the name of “State Security.”

  5. Yes I remember the lists with all the keywords you could not use – and then of course everybody went and used them …………………………….

    1. I don’t think they ever admitted to keeping any of it — they claim they were just “listening” for those key words so they could act on it later. I’m sure it’s has all been sifted and stored somewhere!

  6. I find this article amusing. People are already so attached to their technology and the ability to see a person face to face without actually having to see them, seems to be becoming more convenient. I also think it’s funny how you mentioned that people are letting their appearance falter when video chatting. I, personally, don’t like video chatting unless I look presentable, maybe I’m just one of society’s people still trying to hang on to the “old ways”.

    1. I’ve been reading about the Drive-Through windows at Starbucks stores in Washington State. The Baristas take your order via a two-way video screen! You can see their face and chat with them in real time as they take your order. Being able to see them is new — they’ve always been able to see us ordering on video. Taking the next step, that’s a neat way to let Deaf People finally use the Drive-Through — but the Baristas would need to know a few signs first… SMILE!

      1. That is so cool! Neat ideas like that are one in a million. I wish I could come up with something like that. I would love to invent something that could be beneficial to others.

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