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Life has been fundamentally altered in the last two weeks. An expected date for return to normalcy is TBD, with experts guessing somewhere between “NEVER” and “not soon, bitch!” (Nonexperts are aiming for something faster.) So in these topsy-turvy times, perhaps you will finally accept what I am about to tell you. Something that just a month ago you would have vehemently denied. You would have said I was a fool, a social deviant, a jerk.
But now — now you are forced to acknowledge what I’m saying is true:
It’s time to buy a Facebook Portal.
You’re trapped in your home (or at least you should be), away from friends, family, colleagues, lovers, rivals, gurus... Maybe you live alone and the isolation is setting in. Maybe you have small children who need to be entertained. Maybe you have older teens who desperately miss their friends. Perhaps you’re the grandparent who wants to see your adult children and their wee ones.
Now is the time for video chatting. Of course, there are plenty of options. Zoom has emerged as a top choice, but it has a limitation: a 40-minute cap on free chats. Of course, there’s FaceTime, but that only works if you both have iPhones. There are Skype, Google Hangouts, and WhatsApp, and idk, a bunch of other less popular things, like software designed for businesses to do conference calls, like BlueJeans or GoToMeeting. These are fine, I guess. But no one likes them.
The Facebook Portal, however, sparks joy.
The smart camera is capable of following you around the room (you say creepy, I say clever), which is great for small children who don’t want to calmly sit for a video conference like a Victorian lady posing for a camera for minutes and minutes. Most importantly, it can capture a very wide angle, which means it’s extremely good at fitting two or more people into frame without them having to awkwardly squish their heads together.
On a recent visit, I set up a Facebook Portal in my parents’ kitchen. I have the Portal TV hooked up to my big television at my home, and for the first time last week, video-chatting with them was an actual delight. I could see them, and they could see me and my small child, who also loved the experience. We watched my father blow out birthday candles on a cake and sang. Truly, a Hallmark moment, thanks to Big Zuck.
And it’s not just better for old people. The Portal is perfect for a tiny person who wanders around the room. My 3-year-old recently Portaled with another kid from his preschool (the only other person on planet Earth I know who has a Portal) and they had a blast. Attempts to FaceTime and Zoom with his other classmates have been slightly less successful and more frustrating for the parents involved.
The “Storytime” feature where an adult can read a version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” with motion graphics and face filters is a particular hit with the preschool set (someone gets to be the spider). But the real winner here is the face filters. They’re not necessarily any more special or high tech than Snapchat or Instagram filters, but using them on a video call is way more fun — and kids LOVE them.
Here’s the one big downside: the price. These devices aren’t exactly cheap. The small 8-inch countertop ones start at $129, the Portal TV is $149 (no one needs the huge $279 Portal+, unless you’re a hardcore weird sex pervert). I can’t in good conscience tell you to drop $150 on something like this when people are out there losing their jobs in droves. This decision is between you and your certified CPA. (There is a 20% discount on a second device if you’re sending one to Grandma as well, but if you’re now dropping $300 on Portals right now, you deserve to be marched to the guillotine first.) You can find first-generation Portals available on eBay for $70–$100. That’s more reasonable, right? And then you’re giving your money to a human, not to Facebook, if that makes you feel better.
Look, I know you don’t want a Portal. You think Facebook is bad. You don’t trust it – you think Mark Zuckerberg is watching you pick your nose and fart around your living room. I hear you. I understand you.
I could tell you that the privacy security on this device is actually just fine, no better or worse than having an Instagram account (tbh having an Instagram is probably far worse from a privacy standpoint, if we’re defining “privacy” by the amount of targeted advertising you're exposing yourself to). I could also tell you that our tech team ran tests to see if the Portal transmitted data when it appeared to be “off,” and it doesn’t (we didn’t trust it either, at first). But that’s neither here nor there; Facebook broke your trust a long time ago, and you’re still upset.
But being scared about that is so February 2020. Everything is different now.
You might have once thought that a company using inscrutable information about you to target ads to you was something to be scared of. How quaint. Now you can be scared of, you know, death. You’re lonely, you’re isolated, you need human connection, and here is this device that can give it to you. If there ever was a time to say “fuck it” and just relent to the Facebook Portal, now is that time. Looks like you picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.