Like many researchers, I am a frequent but reluctant user of videoconferencing. Human interaction has both verbal and nonverbal elements, and videoconferencing seems precisely configured to confound the nonverbal ones. It is impossible to make eye contact properly, for instance, in today's videoconferencing systems, because the camera and the display screen cannot be in the same spot. This usually leads to a deadened and formal affect in interactions, eye contact being a nearly ubiquitous subconscious method of affirming trust. Furthermore, participants aren't able to establish a sense of position relative to one another and therefore have no clear way to direct attention, approval or disapproval.
Tele-immersion, a new medium for human interaction enabled by digital technologies, approximates the illusion that a user is in the same physical space as other people, even though the other participants might in fact be hundreds or thousands of miles away. It combines the display and interaction techniques of virtual reality with new vision technologies that transcend the traditional limitations of a camera. Rather than merely observing people and their immediate environment from one vantage point, tele-immersion stations convey them as "moving sculptures," without favoring a single point of view. The result is that all the participants, however distant, can share and explore a life-size space.
This article was originally published with the title Virtually There.