Web, Video and Audio Conferencing

Rant: Videoconferencing should mean no Heathrow expansion

Sometimes in this space writers mock technologies and the pretensions of an industry that sets itself up as the great provider of unique selling properties, competitive differentiation and, well, the future of the world. But sometimes the technology is good and you have to agree that the problem is user error.

User error is behind the reason that the UK Prime Minister and his cronies want to build a third runway at London Heathrow, already the world’s busiest airport and source of appalling air quality and noise pollution for those that live under its flightpath and especially those near its eternal take-offs and landings.

Some see protests against Heathrow as examples of NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) posh people moaning and it’s true that some of the places most affected by Heathrow are the smarter towns like Windsor and Richmond. It’s also true that a walk through the lovely Syon Park can only be tolerated wearing headphones, thanks to the deafening sonic overhead. But then again it’s also true that Heathrow traffic blights those in the unlovely villages near the airport itself.

Supporters of Heathrow expansion suggest that without it the UK will be failing businesses who will therefore pack up and go. But the vast majority of flights are not related to business at all and, as anybody who has ever flown for business purposes knows, a lot of business trips are a waste of time.

The answer is, and for many years has been, videoconferencing. There are reasons of course to have meetings in person. If you’re getting married, signing an important deal, making contact with an important person for the first time for example, a virtual meeting doesn’t suffice. But for most meetings it works very well indeed and it saves cost, the ecology, time, jet lag and so on.

Videoconferencing isn’t perfect. It’s expensive to set up if you want high quality. At the high end you need to book a room and stick to your time slot. It’s disturbing to watch a person excavate his or her nose in hi-def and with crystal clear audio. Keyboard tapping is amplified to the level of stork clacking.

Still, it’s a lot better than the agony we put ourselves through with flying, an unhealthy, uncomfortable affair that involves negotiating ever more stringent and undignified security. But businesses, for whatever reasons, haven’t exploited videoconferencing enough and so, when the last patch of what we once knew as civilisation becomes a wall of noise, like Ozymandias we’ll have to look back on our work… and despair.


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Torquemada, not his real name, has been casting a jaundiced eye on the technology world since the Sinclair C5 was causing as much excitement as the driverless car today, a 64K RAM pack could turbocharge performance, and Alan Sugar was the equivalent of Elon Musk.

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