Monday, May 4, 2020

Plague diary -- May 4

It's been several weeks of lockdown, and different people are responding in different ways.  A month ago all I could hear about was Zoom -- teachers holding video classes, virtual cocktail hours among friends, family reunions, endless work meetings.  I even participated in two Zooms.  For the first one, the regular monthly meeting of our co-op gallery, I thought I couldn't do the video part, since my computer has neither camera nor mike.  So I had the pictures on my screen but had to phone in for the audio, and of course my own photo wasn't on screen. 

For the second one, a meeting of our art book club, I was informed by my son that I could do video from my Kindle, which was true, if constrained.  Other people could switch to screen view and show images of their work or play video; I had to pick up my Kindle and point it at the screen of my computer to share an image without any visual feedback to see how I was doing.  Awkward:  "Can you see this?"  "Farther back, please," 

I approached both of these meetings with something close to dread, and felt bad that I couldn't articulate why.  I am no stranger to old-fashioned telephone conference calls, having spent hundreds of hours that way in my work days.  But videoconferencing seemed to be nowhere near as efficient (for the business meeting) or warm and friendly (for the club meting).  A lot of time was frittered away with comments about how people were dressed, whose spouses had to come in and set up the computer for them, and who was visible only as a black hole.  People still talked over one another, or hesitated in midsentence because somebody else cleared their throat.  The conversation seemed self-conscious and forced, not natural. 

In this Zoom publicity photo, all the people are so HAPPY!  Isn't it FUN to be on a videoconference?  And we're all so young and pretty, and we all work in such bright sunny places -- life is GREAT!!!
I've read dozens of articles in the newspaper with helpful tips on how to do videoconferencing.  How should you dress, how should you stage the part of the room visible on your computer camera, how should you incarcerate your kids and pets for the duration, is it OK to eat during the "meeting."  I read with horror an interview with an alleged management expert who passed along a "helpful tip" from her recent video work meeting with 31 participants.  Good Lord, what kind of management expert thinks it's a good idea to hold a meeting with 31 participants, no matter where or how it's convened???? 

In the last week or so I'm not seeing so many of these articles.  Is it because people who have to do this thing all the time have finally figured out that it's better to wear a shirt and pants when being photographed for your boss and co-workers to see?  Or is it because people are getting so damn sick and tired of videomeetings that they don't want to think or talk about it? 

Then in today's New York Times was an article that made me leap up and say YES!!!!  The headline:  "Why Zoom Is Terrible."  The author points to the "distortions and delays inherent in video....  blocking, freezing, blurring, jerkiness and out-of-sync audio.  These disruptions, some below our conscious awareness, confound perception and scramble subtle social cues.  Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why." 

Yes, that's exactly the way I feel about it. 


  1. I confess to being one who is both tired of zoom and considers it almost a lifeline. I live alone and it's been so wonderful to at least see the faces and interact with the people I love and care about. We've been having church prayer meetings, playing pictionary with the kids, and playing bridge with my other family. Is it worse than being in person? Yes!! Is it annoying and full of weird audio, yes!! But in our groups, people have gotten used to it and can now connect quickly and efficiently and it's given us a way to interact as a group that's not possible just over the phone. I'm actually hopeful that even once we can go back out in public, our far flung groups can keep going this way. I've spent so much more time with aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and even my 92 year old grandma who also lives by herself. So overall in my experience, Zoom has been a win.

  2. I've found Zoom works well with 4 people, not too often. More than that and there's no time for sharing creative activities after moans about lack of haircuts and online delivery slots.

  3. We just had the first Zoom meeting with our needle arts guild. Our board has met twice via zoom. The key is to have a host who has control to mute everyone, except the speaker. We had 86 attendees and 21 shared their projects during our first virtual Show & Tell. If you want to show something, use the chat feature to let the host know. Then he (and yes, our host is Bill!) would unmute and use the spotlight feature so that person is big on the screen. Everyone said it was a big success! I use a macbook pro and it works very well. Some were on phones or ipads, so I don't think they have the chat feature. It was so nice to see everyone, and uplifting to see so many being productive during this time.