Last month Apple updated its line of iPods with the "iPhone without the telco" version of the iPod Touch, complete with Retina Display and more interestingly, FaceTime. Having spent almost six months on a Wi-Fi only iPad, I was anticipating that the FaceTime feature would be more useful than most were expecting.
What I was not expecting was the many ways in which it creates changes in expectation, once you have it weaved into your family interactions. It certainly created some interesting opportunities and raised questions about future situations.
Dual use of entertainment and learning
Since my wife and I are already on iPhone 4s, we thought we would get the kids iPod Touches for Eid, which would have the dual use of entertainment and learning, while FaceTime would allow us to reach out and touch the kids (and vice versa) at their grandparents, their friends or, pretty soon, the mall.
Setting up FaceTime was relatively simple although it requires an Apple ID. You can use an existing email address as an Apple ID but you need to register the email on its servers. Once done, you are good to go.
Interestingly, the kids on their Touches could call us on our cell numbers, while we called them back on their email addresses.
It took about two days for the excitement to die down and we fielded FaceTime calls from around our townhouse incessantly as the kids updated us on every little development. The holiday week was a perfect time to test since cousins were down and the kids were involved in various stay-overs where Wi-Fi was present.
The FaceTime call takes a longish while to connect and I don't know if this is a uniquely South African issue at the moment, given our sensitivity to international latency and bandwidth on our networks, but, once established, everything worked flawlessly, even on a 384k ADSL line.
Didn't take long
It didn't take long for the first parental use to become obvious.
When the kids get playing, they can forget to do things in their routine so when Mom checked to see if kid one had used her asthma pump, being told she will do it just now was not good enough. Walking by, I overheard Mom saying, "Go and get it and let me see you do it, please."
"Let me see you brush your teeth!"
"Hey mom, move the camera over that nappy rash... "
"Let me take you to the candyshop..."
Parents, colleagues, friends can now be ‘remoted' in to observe the context on the ground. What this will do to basic healthcare, parenting, mechanical problems etc is obvious, and not in that we can intellectualise about it, but it's only when the density and ubiquity of these devices have reached critical mass that we will see changes in social behaviour on a meaningful scale.
Raise interesting social issues
In the mean time, it is going to be the leading edge that will change their behaviour immediately. It's going to raise some interesting social issues as well.
How will cheating Lotharios hide their assignations when their spouse simply says "switch to FaceTime", and you can't easily refuse or you are going to have to explain the refusal.
For parents and teenagers, it is going to be very problematic since there is no question that FaceTime will be put to usual teen pursuits, especially regarding the sudden, much more intimate visual connection. It's going to take a lot of understanding and firm discipline from parents to ensure that FaceTime is a useful addition to a family.
Given events like the Rutger's suicide last week, where a student killed himself after a roommate broadcast his private moments with a third-party live over a webcam, it is clear that this generation is grappling to understand what is and is not permissible. For a generation raised on giving up privacy to be advertised to, it's clear that policy and social attitudes are going to have to develop around these kinds of interaction, since it is obvious that the technology companies aren't going to put in the effort.
Falls woefully short
Apple may try harder than most, but even it falls woefully short.
Apple's Parental controls and restrictions are great but when it comes to FaceTime, it's on or off... there is no granular control to say restrict FaceTime between certain hours or explicitly allow only approved callers. [If there are, I couldn't find them.]
In the meantime, the Hassims treat the iPods the same way saloon keepers treated sharpshooters... "No spitting, no chewing and iPods in the water barrel by the door at 8pm sharp." Until they are grown up and living on their own, there shall be NO FaceTime with friends etc where we can't see what's going on.
FaceTime, like Airplay, is one of those Apple introductions that doesn't seem stellar at first but over time, as people integrate them into daily life, become indispensable.
Get ready for a brave new world...
[5 Oct 2010 12:04]