I’ve had it with Zoom. It’s slow to connect, there’s no synchronisation, the sound’s poor and the heads that pop up on the screen are all at funny angles. If they look at the camera when they speak, that’s a blessing, but you have to take your eyes off your own screen to do that yourself. Forget body language – the nod, the yawn, the foot shuffle; you won’t see any of that. Even to get started there’s the code to remember, the login details, the name of the group you’re supposed to be zooming.
So you get it set up at the appointed hour, with the camera showing your pleasing profile in front of a tastefully stacked bookshelf, with not too much light coming through the curtains, but not too little either, and the webcam precariously balanced on a side shelf, next to the cold cup of tea you never drank, and you wait for the meeting to start. Is your microphone on? Can you hear the voice of the person or people you’re calling? Why is the volume so low? You twist the knob with the blue flashing light, and it becomes slightly louder. In desperation you reach for the earphones. The headset delivers clear perfect sound at the right volume. But now no-one else can hear your conversation, or rather they can hear yours but not the person on the other end. You press the Zoom bar, and it tells you it’s starting up.
Then it asks for a password for the meeting. Do you have one? You may have to scroll back through emails to find the one they sent you with the password in.
Suddenly eight mini screens appear with a face in each one. These are your friends. Supposed to be. But they look different. You want to greet one of them. ‘Mute your mike!’ is shouted in your ear. Your comments appear unheard.
One of them speaks and their picture fills the screen. You finally hear what they have to say. If you remember to unmute your mike you may even get to answer, but by this time you’re bored and tired of feeling inadequate.
One to one telephone conversations are better than this.
The missing body language of the other group members on Zoom leaves you, as participant, none the wiser. Communication is fractured, slow, dependent on erratic internet or broadband performance, technology failure, my ancient equipment.
Too much is missing. The smell of fear. The invisible cat interfering with the microphone in someone else’s living room. The group leader’s impatient foot tapping. We are all together on the screen, but we are all separate in our various homes. This is not ideal. Conclusions elude us; we remember or forget to mute or unmute our mikes, pictures held to the camera appear like large jellyfish swimming upwards in an inland sea. The camera still watches me from the corner.
I exit Zoom. I have a flashback to a childhood birthday party I couldn’t go to because I had measles. It’s to do with disappointment. There’s someone out there having fun, a fine time, conversations – but I’m not involved. It’s all out there, somewhere, and Zoom hasn’t helped me find it.