David Pogue has made an interesting observation about how millennials are watching videos on their smartphones.
Here’s the article from the March, 2018 issue of Scientific American.
Author Pogue points out that:
Fewer and fewer people bother turning their phones to watch widescreen videos—72 percent of millennials don’t, in fact.
Of course, that age range doesn’t cover all smartphone users, but it does punctuate an interesting trend. It’s interesting because a lot of video is people-oriented as opposed to theatrical oriented, and many people aren’t used to that yet. Pogue explains:
Fans of vertical video argue that vertical shots do better justice to buildings, trees, mountains and scenes of a single upright person. Instead of just head and shoulders, you’re seeing torso and hands, too.
The self-centered nature of the explanation is hard to overlook. But I think there’s more to it than that.
A Smart Analysis
Before I go on, I want to compliment author Pogue. He doesn’t try to assign blame for what he calls “the age of aspect-ratio hell.” And he doesn’t try to offer any kind of cooked-up solution to the problem. It just is, and we need to be aware of it.
That means that organizations that deliver video are also aware of this phenomenon and are about the business of catering to those who like to view videos in this fashion. (The rest of us will grumble.) That means you may more and more frequently encounter a viewing mode that seems odd to you. By odd, I mean that you may ask yourself why you didn’t need to simply turn your iPhone into landscape mode, as one does with, say, Netflix.
The Long Haul
The more I think about this physiological effect, the more I’m intrigued by the evolutionary manner in which we’ve become accustomed to holding a smartphone. Our hands are uniquely suited to holding something slender. (A tool, an arrow, a stick, etc.) It’s our innate human ability brought on by the structure of the hand and the opposable thumb. It worked out great for our evolution. Plus, holding an iPhone in landscape mode is physically awkward; we’re more inclined to drop it in a crowded subway. Or, it seems, put a finger on the camera lens.
On the other hand, as author Pogue points out, our vision is skewed towards the horizontal. That’s probably because we evolved as two dimensional land creatures (except for our smaller, arboreal ancestors), and early threats tended to be in the horizontal plane. That is, we’re more concerned with being eaten by lurking lions in the bushes than hawks overhead.
As this splendid article points out, there is no imminent resolution. Moreover, as more and more personal video, by leaps and bounds of exabytes, gets recorded, the inward focus of human beings gets more priority than grand panoramas. As with any emergent technology, it’s just one more thing to get used to.
I will, however, surmise that as soon as the smartphone is freed from its dependence on the physical display that we hold in our hands, this aspect ratio duel may well dissipate.
But for now, get ready to view a lot more video in what seems like a silly preference for portrait mode. Because that’s how we clutch our iPhone, the modern window into our immediate world.