Life on Zoom

After a couple of months of virtual Microsoft Team meetings, one Zoom Seder, and a couple of awkward Zoom therapy sessions, I can say that I’m over it. If this is what Silicon Valley is flogging as the future of work, I’m pretty sure it’s not living up to the hype.

In a virtual meeting every participant is the lighting director, camera man, and grip. Few of us are trained in these crafts and the results are predictable: odd angles, faces in shadows, faces overexposed, chins filling the frame, or half a face, or cameras aimed at coffee tables or a picture on the wall.

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Even if you do get all that right: your face is bathed in just the right amount of light, you are perfectly centered in the frame, and you even shaved or combed your hair, got out of your pajamas tops, and put on a reasonably clean shirt, one mistake, like going for your coffee cup and instead moving your device, or standing up and revealing to your coworkers that the only thing you have on is a shirt, and all that work is for naught. Remember, the camera never lies, though it frequently misrepresents.

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And then there’s the bandwidth. Not just yours participant, but everyone else’s too. Pictures freeze, the audio goes out, the system crashes just when the speaker is actually saying something important. You log back on only to discover everyone’s taken a break.

Even if the whole thing is going perfectly (has that ever happened to anyone, really?), the experience is less than satisfying. When you see another participant on the screen, you’re not really seeing them: the subtle or not so subtle visual cues, the furrowing of a brow, the sly smile, the reassuring look of male patriarchy. You’re seeing an imperfect, miniature, representation of a person. We’re just avatars in the make believe world of virtual meetings, trainings, family gatherings, classrooms, and even therapy sessions.

When you see another participant on the screen, you’re not really seeing them: the subtle or not so subtle visual cues, the furrowing of a brow, the sly smile, the reassuring look of male patriarchy.

Furthermore, few of us really have the lighting gear, or, as I said before, the expertise, or the luck, to be clearly visible on these platforms. What you usually get are fuzzy pictures that freeze momentarily, and aren’t in synch with the audio. That experience, to me, is very disappointing. I find it better to turn off my video and avert my eyes from the screen when someone is talking. This helps me concentrate on what someone is saying, rather than how they look, or how I look. Just be careful to turn off your video if you decide to use your phone to surf Idealist for a new job instead of paying attention.

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So thank you and no thank you Silicon Valley for yet another gift you’ve given the world. Thank you, because we’re in a pandemic, unable to travel responsibly, unable to meet in person, unable to hug a loved one. These platforms give us a very imperfect but useful way to connect. Also, thank you for inadvertently demonstrating to everyone, everywhere who has used these platforms, whether students, family, coworkers, or Codependents that your attempts to replace human interaction with virtual interaction has fallen short.

We, the entire non-software engineering world could have told you so. For example, most people prefer actual sex to web porn. Look at what the Dutch Government’ s recommendation is to its self isolating single citizens: find a sex buddy to quarantine with. They didn’t recommend watching porn 24/7. Different activity (okay WAY different activity), but same principle. Actual trainings, meetings, medical appointments, therapy, classrooms, family gatherings, play dates, and yes, sex, are WAY better than the virtual dystopia they’re selling.

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So, yes, I’m glad these platforms exist but I can’t wait to use them less often. It’s like sex without the orgasm. Its okay but a little disappointing.

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