I have eight (8) children, now mostly grown. Two live in New York City — Brooklyn, to be exact — one lives in Washington, D.C., one lives and works on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota, one goes to college in Minnesota and another is in South Africa, and my two youngest live in Germany. I live in Berkeley, CA. The nine of us regularly do Skype Group Calls, and there is nothing I love more than seeing all eight of them in a group call. Take my word for it, they are all incredibly beautiful-looking children.That pretty much covers my need for video calling. The rest of you? I don’t really want to look at you when we talk on the phone. Nothing personal… oh, okay, it is something personal. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that, well, I’d prefer imagining how you look.
And here’s how I picture you: you’re looking great. Your hair is perfect and you’re dressed in a casual yet elegant manner that bespeaks the quality of you as a person.In addition, if I’m going to talk to you on the phone, I kinda don’t want to spend anytime making sure I look good. I just want to sound good. I want you to imagine me the way I’m imagining you. I want to sound smart and competent and brilliant and insightful and piercing in my analysis, or — depending on the situation — maybe a little sexy. Even if I’m wearing that ratty University of New Mexico Football sweatshirt with holes in the armpits that I got at a thrift store eight years ago, and my hair is a mess, and I haven’t showered since Tuesday. You don’t need to see that. No one needs to see that. Frankly, it’s upsetting enough to me that I look like this, and I certainly don’t want to inflict it on you.
A couple of months ago, I did a video call with my writing partner on a film project. We had never met, but had corresponded and done a lot of work together via email and Google Docs, and I felt completely comfortable with him as a partner. Then we did the Skype video call. His hair was a mess and his nose was bright red from a cold… and he was lying in bed! To be honest, that killed it for me. It felt as if I were lying in bed with him. And he was sick! I did not want to be lying in bed with a sick guy talking about the second act break. I didn’t.
“Can we continue this call tomorrow?” I asked.
“Why?” he said.
“You’re sick and in bed,” I said. “And I kinda feel like I’m in bed with you right now and I might catch what you have..” And so we ended what had been up to that point a productive call.
Look, I don’t want to come across as Mr. Fussbudget Himself, Felix Unger, and certainly the technology exists to make video conference calling simple and convenient.
But don’t you sometimes wish you were just doing an audio-only conference call? That way, all of us could be sitting in our PJs at home, and we could all be imagining that everyone else looks as good as they sound. These are smart and brilliant and handsome people I’m working with, you can think to yourself, without reality — messy hair and ratty t-shirts and dingy living rooms — ruining it for everyone.