OK Zoomer

Do you want to Zoom? After “What’s for dinner?”, this is perhaps the number one most asked question during this COVID-19 quarantine. Kids do it, grandparents do it, even educated nerds do it. Seems like everyone’s doing it, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Bless their hearts.

SNL comically captured this Zoomundrum on this past Saturday night’s digital episode. In a skit, co-workers, including two women who serve as support staff, hilariously portrayed by Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon, connect on a Zoom staff meeting. They are Zoom virgins and their discomfort and fear with the technology is palpable. At one point on the call, Bryant’s character carries her laptop into the bathroom – not knowing that she is still on camera. Watch it on YouTube and thank me later.

Now let me be clear – I am far from technically savvy, so I’m not throwing any cyber stones here. I’m just making a few observations and trying to get your mind off what you’re going to make for dinner. My community service during the time of plague if you will.

So, here are a few personas I have observed in my glut of Zoom gatherings:

The Newbie. This person is taking the plunge because someone they love asked them to, but they are clearly out of their comfort zone. Once they enter the Zoom room, they have a panicked look on their face – like they’ve gotten on the wrong flight. Their eyes are darting around all over the place as if they’re looking for the exit door. The first words they utter are usually, “Am I on?”. When someone answers them, they almost jump out of the screen as if they’re hearing the voice of God. It’s okay, newbie, everyone remembers their first time.

The Hostage. This Zoomer acts like they are being held against their will. They slip in without saying anything and are usually sitting in dim lighting in a room normally reserved for storage – like you can see the tubs of Christmas decorations in the background. They rarely participate and sometimes even forget to blink. They can’t wait for the meeting to be over.

The Showoff. You know this person. They’ve downloaded all the “cool” Zoom backgrounds because well, this isn’t their first Zoom rodeo. They just can’t wait for someone to comment on their backdrop and gush about how clever they are. I find these backgrounds disturbing. I was on a Zoom with a guy who had the Golden Gate Bridge as his backdrop, and it looked like he was going to jump. Very distracting.

The Chatterbox. It doesn’t matter if this person is in a room with you or a Zoom with you – they are always going to talk the most and interrupt the most. And annoy you (okay, me) the most. Pro tip: Eye-rolling must be nuanced on Zoom – never forget that the camera is on.

The Unmutable. This is often a subset of the Chatterbox. This person is oblivious to the mute button and will often provide unnecessary – and unwanted – commentary on whatever the center square is saying. They also often tend to ignore the other folks on the meeting who are pleading, “Mute your mic!”. I think it’s fine to throw in a quick on-screen eye-roll if they continue to not mute.

The Family Guy. This dude is quarantined with a large family and thinks the best place to log on is the kitchen table, so we get to see his cranky kids and black Lab running in and out of the screen frame. The dog is adorable, but stay in your square, man!

I’m personally not accepting that many Zoom invitations. And, no, it’s not because I’m 100% that bitch. My dear wife is a psychotherapist and has been seeing her clients via teletherapy for the past month. We live in a 1,200 sq. ft. condo and her new office is our dining room table. It has been a stressful transition – for her, for me, and for her clients – many of whom are older and not used to such technology. God bless ‘em for being game for keeping their appointments. Sometimes it takes a while to get them connected, but everyone seems to be getting with the new normal as the days go by.

My wife is the poster girl for Good Boundaries (something I deeply admire about her) and we are strictly adhering to HIPAA guidelines. She has a white noise machine she has running during her appointments and if I’m home – I’m in my office with my headphones on. Our cat has tried to interrupt a few sessions, but she isn’t one to talk out of school. That said, I have enjoyed hearing some funny stories when my wife is done with work. A few weeks ago, she called a client who had not logged on for her appointment. The client answered the phone and when my wife reminded her of the appointment she said, “Oh, yeah, but I’m not wearing a shirt.” True story. Note: She found a shirt before she logged on.

At the end of the day, my wife is absolutely fried. She thinks teletherapy is more difficult than in-person therapy for a myriad of reasons, but she’s profoundly grateful that she can continue doing her job during this pandemic. And I feel really good about her job security since I think therapists, after hairdressers, will be the busiest people once we are released from our COVID captivity.

The last thing she wants to do after work is join a Zoom anything. She often takes a walk or steps outside for some fresh air. We both enjoy the silence at the end of the day and a no screen zone for a bit. And then we’ll have some dinner and relax with a nice Netflix drama about serial killers.

I appreciate that Zoom has been vital to enabling people to do important things from home – work, worship and stay connected to family and friends, but I find myself defaulting more and more to old school communication as this pandemic wears on. I’ve always been a note writer, but I’m rapidly depleting my robust stash of cards and stationery. There’s something so intimate to taking pen to paper to communicate with another human being. And isn’t it nice to get something in the mail besides a bill?

I’ve also been reminded that my phone can be used for something besides texting. The other day, I was on the phone with my best friend from college for almost two hours. I was aware that my right ear was getting kind of hot, but I had absolutely no idea we had been talking for that long. It was delicious and I felt so much lighter after our conversation. She lives in Berkeley, CA and has been living in quarantine since early March. The reality of COVID-19 is much closer to her and I am reminded to be grateful that NC is weathering this mighty storm pretty well.

Maybe Zoom is working for you and if it is, that’s great. I just know that I need to connect in a more visceral way with the people I care about. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter how you do it, just stay connected – to others and your own humanity. At the end of the day, it’s our only superpower.

Well, that and Amy’s frozen pizza. Stay home, stay safe.

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