Skype and Bauldrillard

The online virtual post-internet world we now live in has changed the way we communicate. We have replaced long distance written communication to vocal and now visual communication. What I shall focus on is the new tool Skype, and the potentially negative consequences this has. As imagination is replaced by image.

We shall start by taking the analogy of  of the digital camera in Baudrillards book “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?“. Here he explains that the digital cameras functions by transforming a reflected image into data and then this collected data is used to recreate an image on screen. In summery his argument is that we no longer have an image but a replica of an image which has the same properties as the original. But this copy is not genuinely the same thing as the original, as it doesn’t change or age it just repeats. He uses this analogy to explain his belief that society has likewise become an replica of its self. But skype and and webcam based technology takes this analogy a step further. Skype creates the illusion of face to face conversation when actually it is merely a replica. A collection of code to represent the face of your distant friend.

The Skype conversation, that is focused on coded image is limiting. Ones eyes are not free to roam around, touch is of course out of the question. Even feelings such as anger no longer fill the conversation. Emotion has a presence and cannot so easily be replicated by a flat 2d image. At most you will receive a faint shadow of true emotion. Skype aims to mimic face to face conversation but lacks the physicality to truly be more then a poor substitute. It is a replica that attempts to have the same qualities of the original but is not the same as the original. When you find your self in a new place these conversation tools can become alienating. It encourages you to have a bad replica of a conversation with someone you know, rather then seeking a real conversation with someone you do not.

But the true social risk found in Skype is the control one can exert over it. In a genuine three dimensional conversation one can only control there perception to a certain extent. An interview is effective because although there is an illusion aspect to the proceedings, this illusion is some form of game that the participants are aware they are involved in. They are actively presenting themselves in a positive way. The knowledge of this game gives the interview an subtext. Where the participants try to find certain information through the way the others maintain their illusion. This phenomenon is also found in dating and even in day to day conversation to a lesser extent.

Where Skype differs is in its two dimensional aspect. The body language on show can easily be hidden, and barley exists at all. It acts within a frame where you position yourself within a box. The onlooker has no choice in where to look at you. You are positioning yourself into a flat frame. At no point during a conversation on Skype do you look into the others eyes. To do so would require both participants to stare directly into the webcam. The webcam becomes the others eye. You can tell it where to look. This is where Skype becomes less personal then the other means of long distance communication. By attempting to mimic face to face conversation it becomes a bad copy of it, and one that should not be mistaken as any less far away from it, then other forms of long distance communication.

Why Skype can be worse then other forms of long distance communication is because it attempts at being a replica. All the imagination of a phone call or letter is gone. During a letter or phone call one fills the lack of image with memories. The sole voice in a phone call can trigger an imagination of the body language and eye contact found within a conversation. In Skype the personality one fills in through a phone call is replaced by a bad replica of communication.

The good thing is that unlike the digital camera it is obvious that Skype is not face to face conversation. It replaces the phone or letter not all conversation. But the technological drive to make long distance conversation more like face to face conversation sets a bad precedent. Bauldrillards nightmare is the point where the two become indistinguishable. Where the illusion of face to face conversation has become so good that it is unnoticeable. Then distance ceases to matter. What is real or not becomes a moot point. At that point the meaning of face to face conversation disappears. Our reality is replaced with a new one, a perfect replica of one.