Monday, August 20, 2007

Korean Video Calls and Proximity

As someone who, like most Americans, doesn’t find mobile content (except Gmail mobile) in the US appealing, I’ve been fascinated by what’s going on in Korea. All types of mobile content have been having success, including games and filmed entertainment.

The old James Bond dream of the video call is now becoming a reality. One of Korea’s top mobile entertainment companies, KTF, is putting a huge marketing push behind its Show brand, focusing on that technology. Check out the video for some footage of the latest commercials advertising the service, posted by a 19 year old Korean YouTube kid.

The commercial that begins at 2:24 is fascinating. Various opposite sex couples are having video calls. One person is in an exotic foreign location (Pamplona, Paris) and the other is not. It’s powerful advertising: always be right there with your boy/girl, no matter where they are.

A new aspect to cell phones is that we can be anywhere while talking to anyone. More importantly, two people having a conversation don’t share any common setting. We don’t know where the other person is, literally or metaphorically. Video calls could provide a frame of reference for conversations that could close the proximity gap between people communicating across vast mental or physical distances. Which would be a good thing?

Watch the faces of the people in the little video box. Each one is an embedded narrative that anyone who’s been left at home while your significant other was off somewhere cool can tap into. One is happy, another confused. The last man looks like he is just holding it together while his (presumable) girlfriend shows off the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps seeing the context actually heightens the feeling of distance?

It makes you wonder if technology can make us feel more proximate or whether anything short of physical co-location will always be unsatisfying (if better than nothing). Perhaps there is a relationship version of the uncanny valley where the closer we get to virtually being together, the more estranged we'll actually feel.

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