By Pat Lok
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent global lockdown, has forced us to shift our usual social interactions into a different realm; over the past few months, online communication has become the new normal. From social media to e-mail, there are a number of different platforms to choose from, though one such platform that has seen its user base balloon in recent months is Zoom.
Zoom appears to have become a synonym to the word ‘meeting’ during this lockdown. Zoom is a free online meeting tool – now ubiquitous – that facilitates the public health strategy of social distancing while also allowing people to work from home. It is a remote meeting application that enables people to collaborate and share screens from across the world, and it has become one of the most popular supplements to in-person social interaction since nearly 20% of the world’s population is now on lockdown.
Zoom has been utilized to facilitate different facets of social interaction – both formal and informal. Personally, I’ve used Zoom for a meeting with research colleagues from different countries, took part in a jury trial as a research project participant, and attended a virtual pub quiz.
It’s weird how this shift in social interaction has somehow allowed me to know my peers and lecturers a bit better. Zoom lectures now have occasional background noise of family chatter and occasional interruptions from pets and children. One of my friend’s lecturers embraced the advantage of lecturing from home and gave a tutorial while nursing his child on his lap.
Now that my usual commute has shrunk to a trip from my bed to my desk, my work attire has also been restyled into a formal top and pyjama bottom combination. Though this did lead to an embarrassing episode where I wanted to get up and fetch a book and I accidentally flashed my Simpsons pyjama bottoms to the group call. But after attending a few more Zoom meetings since then, I am glad to know that I am not the only person who has embarrassed myself on camera like this at least once.
The inability to exercise the mute button in Zoom has become the new social faux pas. Toilet flushing, swearing and Apps notification sounds just to name a few. The New Yorker has collated a light-hearted list of tips for teachers who are using Zoom to deliver classes This can also be adopted by people who are working from home to minimise the probability of you embarrassing yourself live on Zoom. These tips include adjusting your laptop to get a better camera angle and shutting your door to prevent any unwanted screen-bombing.
Zoom’s Many Uses
Meetings are only the tip of the iceberg for this versatile application; Zoom is being used for a wide range of different things: “Zoomers” have been running the European Union, hosting virtual graduation ceremonies and events, and, tragically, even executing breakups. Although successful social distancing is perceived by some as a testament to the strength of a relationship, for others, the distance apart has proved not to be so simple.
Unnecessary outings have been discouraged in order to minimise the spread of infection. This is particularly important for potentially infectious people who, if caught going into public spaces without a valid reason, can potentially face a fine. Though we are all encouraged to stay inside, and away from large groups of people, as much as we can. As a result of this, MEP meetings in Brussels have also succumbed to Zoom; “monologues have replaced dialogues”. These meetings are for discussing plans needed to contain the virus, with the adoption of remote voting by MEPs and by getting interpreters to translate meetings into the 24 official languages of the EU in real-time. It does pose a question of whether productive and meaningful conclusions can result from these virtual meetings, however, for now, it’s the best that we can do considering the current circumstance.
While there is no sign of the lockdown being lifted anytime soon, local and international institutions are investigating the possibility of delivering their events online instead. For medical students, graduations have been brought-forward and delivered on Zoom so that they can work as interim junior doctors to assist the NHS workforce amidst the pandemic.
Although the convenience of Zoom is undeniable, it does have its drawbacks. The German government recently issued a restriction upon the use of Zoom on its citizens due to its inadequate encryption. Several other countries, as well as numerous corporations, have out-right banned the use of Zoom too because of its seemingly inadequate security.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the convenience of online meetings with Zoom, I’ve also missed the human touch of face-to-face and in-person social interaction – unbuffered, unfiltered and present. Hopefully, we can return to that life before too long.