A Challenge Too Great

As the regular followers of this blog are undoubtedly aware, I have not written anything in some time.  Although this lack of expressiveness started some time ago, it has now been subsumed in a general sense of debilitating awe, amazement and terror about events in which our world is now awash.  Like many of you, I am sure, I am nearly constantly fighting the urge to see the latest news and hear the ever-more grim statistics, so many of which are emanating from the metropolis of which my community forms an integral part of its “greater” area. 

While I have watched these events unfold, I have sadly reached an inescapable conclusion:  the challenge we face now is too great for us to manage.  But before anyone thinks I am making some type of political statement – I am not, as the current crisis seems to belong to people of all political ideologies from Communists to Libertarians, Republicans to Democrats, Bernie Bros to the good people of American Samoa who have an odd affinity for Michael Bloomberg.  In fact, the challenge about which I write today is not even the Corona virus (or COVID-19); why write about something that we clearly are not able to cope with?  Rather, it is something that this virus has inadvertently revealed and which may bring ruin to our entire way of life:  Zoom.

For those of you who do not know what Zoom is, perhaps you should consider yourself lucky and stop reading at this point.  I assure you I will be back with other writings in the near future – I cannot leave the house anyway – so you need not feel cut off.  But for those of you who do not wish to heed this warning, allow me to explain the undoubtedly well-intended but clearly mistaken concept that is Zoom.  You see, Zoom is a “service” that allows people to have virtual gatherings.  And out of what must be both a place of good-heartedness and free marketing, the kind people of Zoom have been providing these video conferencing services for free for “meetings” of about 45 minutes.  I implore such good people, however, to stop.  Immediately.  We are not ready as a society for this. 

I will acknowledge that I am somewhat conservative in my thinking generally.  For example, in my new career as involuntary home school teacher, I have chosen to focus our kitchen table curricula on what we used to refer to as the Three Rs – in Appalachian, expressed as readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.  It is not that I do not believe in progress; I do.  But just because something is old does not mean that it does not have value (admittedly this is somewhat of a double-entendre that has quasi-political overtones in that I, perhaps selfishly as one who also is at heightened risk due to my inadequate immune system, do not think that we should just pretend to go back to business as usual and allow anyone collecting Social Security to perish).  And to provide another illustration, I miss the good old days of copper phone wires and the monopoly held by AT&T.  I love my iPhone, but the one thing it is not very good at is, ironically, phone calls.  And the same may be said of my triple-play package from the cable company whose phone service is only occasionally better than my mobile reception.  Sometimes something just works.  See, also, Clorox, if you can find it.

But my biases aside, I can provide substantiation for my general thesis that Zoom should discontinue its arguably generous proposition.  For starters, let us consider the professional context.  I have been a member of the work force, in one (loose) capacity or another for nearly 25 years.  During all but the most recent fraction of that time, we regularly convened people using a concept known as the conference call.  For those reading this born after 1989, a conference call was a simple – but effective – technology that allowed multiple people to call into a central number and all participate in a meeting without the necessity of being in the same place.  Sure, it was not perfect.  Sometimes, particularly if there were many such participants and a portion of those people were not familiar with the voices of others, there would be an occasional need to say, “Excuse me, but who just said ‘X’?”  Not a heavy lift.  (I should also confess that sometimes more than one person would attempt to speak at the same time but that happens with Zoom as well so I consider that to be a wash.)  This telephonic gathering place served me well from the hollers of West Virginia to the canyons of Wall Street.  And never did I hear during any of the countless hours I spent using such congregating tactics anyone utter the phrase, “This would be so much better if we could all be together.”  Other than the odd, touchy-feely types, who are not really the bedrock upon which our capitalist system is built anyway, most people would prefer not to have to look at one another during an interminable meeting.  Isn’t that why we invented the Internet, anyway – to have something to occupy us covertly during such wastes of time? 

Now that so many of us are working from home, however, there is some bizarre notion that we must see each other to work with each other.  I, of course, have been ahead of the curve for years as a work-from-home type, so I have been alerted to the pitfalls of allowing a camera into one’s home so that people, who are most charitably, and only occasionally, bestowed with the dubious honorific of “work friends”, can see the squalor that I may or may not maintain in my office or my choice of artwork adorning my walls.  Yet others have not been alerted to this reality.  In its worst manifestation was the video of the past week that went viral (appropriately) of a woman participating in one such work “meeting” who inexplicably forgot that she was visible to all and took her camera with her to record and live-stream her tinkling.  How this is possible I really cannot imagine.  Sure, an innocent pick of an overly-arid nostril I could imagine (not that I would ever do such a thing and apparently the health authorities also believe that this is only an activity engaged in by children, which makes me wonder if they have ever seen Seinfeld), but a full-on trip to the toilet?  When people are looking to make decisions in this time of contracting economics and resultant job cuts, the public pee’r may have made that decision unwittingly easier. 

But perhaps even more challenging for us as a civilization is the use of Zoom for non-business purposes.  This intrusion into everyone’s sanctum has infiltrated both the recreational – my neighborhood pool club board thought this would be great, which it wasn’t – as well as the spiritual, as I have attended religious services through cyberspace multiple times in just the past week.  Yet, since the religion that I most closely identify with is Misanthropy, the idea of seeing fellow worshippers, much less letting them see me, does little to give me confidence that there is any higher power out there.  What makes the issue so acute is that virtually (another double-entendre) no one knows how to use this technology in a manner that is not highly irritating to everyone else.  For heaven’s sake people, if you do not know how to mute your microphone you should not be allowed to Zoom, which I fear will soon become a verb.  And because communal worship, particularly in this time of isolationism, is allegedly reassuring to some the terrestrial powers that be are reluctant to use a “Mute All” function, if one even exists.  If not, perhaps we must appeal to the celestial powers to so provide because the idea of saying a prayer jointly is somewhat defeated by the din of phones ringing in the background and, of course, toilets aflushing. 

3 thoughts on “A Challenge Too Great

  1. Claudia Schmidt

    Mwahahaha! Well, you’ve done your good deed for today as you made me laugh after a ridiculous day of dealing with COVID social distancing, working, and being in the midst of a very poorly timed kitchen remodel (don’t ask). I have been working from home for over 10 years and NEVER let anyone see what I look like while I’m on all my back-to-back conference calls, to the extent that I have actually turned off the camera function on may laptop. But everyone else now seems to feel the need to see each other, which is just nutty in my opinion. Stay well and keep ’em laughing.

  2. nancyspoint

    Hi Jeff,

    Another camera avoider here. Human behavior is certainly interesting, isn’t it?

    On a related note, (I think), those “private” message groups on Twitter and elsewhere make me uncomfortable. I’m in a pretty large group now that does a lot of private messaging. Someone put me in it, no idea who, so I’m sorta reluctant to withdraw lest I seem uninterested or worse.

    Like I said, human behavior is interesting. I haven’t yet used Zoom, and now I’m not so sure I want to.

    Thanks for the piece. Gave me a much needed laugh too.

    Good luck with your new home school teacher role. Hope your wife is staying safe at work and you and the boys too, of course.

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