If you never heard of Zoom before the pandemic, you’re not alone. I used to associate the word with small children lying on the floor playing with cars.
Now, it’s how I meet my friends and family for drinks or for dinner, how I attend birthday parties, how I tour art galleries. I’m not alone: thanks to the pandemic, users of the Zoom videoconferencing app have surged from 10 million in 2019 to over 300 million today.
In the early days of the pandemic, a weekly Zoom of my women friends saw everybody talking over one another, with pent up angst and an urgent need to talk. Being as deaf as I am, that was just as frustrating on Zoom as in real life (IRL, as it’s called).
To lip-read, I use the “speaker view” in Zoom, which fills the screen with the face of whoever is talking. But with everyone talking at the same time, the screen was flipping at a maddening speed from speaker to speaker.
We soon found ways to harness the galloping technology. People needed to speak one at a time, and sometimes we even agreed to “raise hands” to indicate our desire to speak. In that case we would also agree to mute ourselves so the screen didn’t flip to someone every time they sneezed or coughed, or their cat meowed.
That worked well, although there were some holdouts, who absolutely refused to mute themselves. And then, of course, there were those who obligingly muted themselves, but then forgot to “unmute” (what a word!) in order to speak. Every minute around the world today, somebody is speaking soundlessly over Zoom while participants are shouting, “Unmute yourself!”
Aside from human error (not muting, not unmuting, and so forth) there is the technology itself that can gum up the works. “You’re frozen!” doesn’t have anything to do with feeling cold. My screen just seizes up because of your poor internet connection, and your dopey expression freezes on the screen. Or your internet might be slow enough that there is a lag between the sound coming from your lips and the movement of your lips. As a lip-reader, I find this profoundly demoralizing. It’s like watching a badly dubbed movie in another language, but thinking the language was English and trying to lip-read.
But, I have to admit, there are many advantages to Zoom over pre-pandemic in real life. No driving through a snow storm to get to a party. No slipping on the ice on the way to a class. No searching for a handicapped parking spot on a dark night. No frantic last-minute hunt for a babysitter. No need to prepare a big meal for guests: just plop your laptop or tablet on your dinner table while you “share” a meal with them.