Image Appearance and Vanity in the Use of Media Spaces and Videoconference Systems

Media spaces and videoconference systems are beneficial for connecting separated co-workers and providing rich contextual information. However, image sharing communication tools may also touch on sensitive spots of the human psyche related to personal, perceived image issues (e.g., appearance, self-image, self-presentation and vanity). We conducted two user studies to examine the impact of self-image concerns on the use of media spaces and videoconference systems. Our results suggest that personal, perceived image concerns have a considerable impact on the comfort level of users and may hinder effective communication . We also found that image filtering techniques can help users feel more comfortable. Our results revealed that distortion filters, which are frequently cited to help preserve privacy, do not tend to be the ones preferred by users. Instead, users seemed to favor filters that make subtle changes to their appearance, or, in some instances, they preferred to use a surrogate instead.

Media space and videoconferencing tools can enhance organizational communication by connecting geographically dispersed co-workers, providing awareness through rich contextual information, and improving users’ sense of presence . However, current use of media spaces and videoconferencing systems is much less than was previously predicted by the plethora of research and development in the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s . Privacy has been recognized as a key barrier to the adoption of media spaces and teleconferencing systems and privacy concerns (e.g., autonomy, solitude, confidentiality ) have been explored from a variety of perspectives . However, very little research has examined how issues of vanity, or concern for one’s appearance, impacts users comfort with image sharing communication. The goal of this work was to investigate whether users are concerned about issues of appearance and vanity when interacting in media spaces or videoconferencing sessions. Two studies were conducted to better understand factors related to image consciousness and sharing and how these factors influence image based communication. Our results demonstrate that users want to be able to see their self-image, but are concerned about their appearance, and that vanity issues can cause distraction and discomfort in image sharing communication. We also explored the potential of image filtering techniques to help make users more comfortable with the images they share. Our results revealed that some frequently cited image filtering techniques (e.g., distortion filters), were viewed less favorably than techniques which only slightly modified users’ appearances without causing a high degree of distortion. Users were also interested in the possibility of using a surrogate or avatar instead of their own image.

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