The last 50 odd years have seen the introduction of some of the most life-changing inventions ever created. Some of them, like the Internet, the iPod, or the fleshlight, are so useful or cool that they become an inescapable part of our daily lives. Others, well, not so much. And no amount of hype could save them.
6The Video Phone
How It Was Supposed To Change The World:
As early as 1910, people were imagining a wonderful future where they could see the person they were talking to miles away while still being able to enjoy the privacy of being pantless off screen. Videophones were standard future tech in science fiction (hell, imagine Star Trek without the bad guy threatening the crew on the giant wide screen monitor that apparently works with all alien camera technology).
So companies have been tinkering with videophone systems for decades, and AT&T had an easy to use prototype up and running by the 60s. By 1970, the picture phone was available for use in New York, Washington, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Major companies like Westinghouse had units installed in their corporate headquarters.
The video wasn't great but it didn't matter. The grainy technicolor future was here!
How It Didn't Change Shit:
Besides costing $1500 for the phone, the service cost over $90 bucks a month. Back in 1970, most people's disposable income was tied up in polyester shirts and cocaine, leaving little room for insanely expensive talky boxes. But the real nail in the coffin was the fact that people didn't want to use videophones nearly as much as everyone thought they did.
Sure, it was fun to see the person you were talking to at first, but once the novelty wore off it got weird. People didn't look at the camera when they talked, they looked at the screen. Even in webcams today, you don't look at the girl you're paying $5.95 a minute, you look down and to the left. The reason face-to-face contact is so valued by people, aside from the chance to score a peripheral glance at some boob, is the human eye contact. And the videophone didn't allow any.
Another unforeseen problem was that people liked being able to see the person they were talking to, but didn't really want anyone to see them. With a regular phone you can answer safe in the knowledge that no one knows how sad your life is. But with a video phone, you can't hide the fact you're eating sandwiches on the toilet.
Is There Any Hope?
Sure, webcams have become ubiquitous, but most people use those to masturbate with strangers. Somehow that doesn't feel the same when you're using your home phone talking to grandma. Many cellphones have the capability to send and receive video calls, it's just a matter of most people not giving a damn.
It's useful for some groups,such as the deaf who can use it to sign, and for various medical and diagnostic purposes. Outside of those specialized uses, it seems to be doomed to always be a novelty, niche product.