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The debut of the first picturephone

picturephoneI love that moment in re-runs of the movie “Wall Street” where Gordon Gecko is on the beach.  To show just how luxurious the high life is, he is shown using his mobile phone, and it’s about the size and weight of a brick!  Old technology often amuses, such is the rapid pace of today’s change.  One recent example came to light when footage of the first picturephone was unveiled.  Made in 1969 by Western Electric, public booths with it were installed by AT&T in Washington DC, New York and Chicago.  The 1970 service in Pittsburgh, Penn., marked the first time models were available for private use.  It did not catch on, party because of cost.  $160 a month plus 25c for each minute after the first 30 was a lot to pay for a service that hardly anyone was connected to.  After 4 years only 8 were in use in Pittsburgh.

Of course a videophone is a good idea.  We are told that most communication is non verbal (some say 80%, some 90%), so it helps to see a person’s face when you talk to them.  But it has to be cheap and convenient to use, and although we’re most of the way there, we’re not quite there.  I often video-chat with Skype or AIM on an iMac, and I have done it occasionally with an iPad.  My iPhone can do it, but I’ve never used it that way.  Partly it’s the awkwardness of holding it in the right place.  It’s convenient with a desktop, OK with a laptop on a café table, but difficult with a hand-held phone.  It would be easier if the webcam were a small remote that you could place on a shelf in front of you and that synched with your phone.  You could then have a reasonably natural conversation.  I’m pretty sure that someone will produce a system that catches on, but I’m also sure it will be tinier and lighter than those first models…


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