Zoom meetings. Zoom webinars. Zoom schooling. Zoom sales calls. Zoom happy hours. Zoom blind dates. Zoom theater. Zoom job interviews. Zoom press conferences. Zoom picnics. Zoom focus groups. Zoom live concerts. Zoom religious services. Zoom exercise classes. Zoom funerals. Zoom weddings.
April 2019: Zoom’s IPO (initial public offering) opens at $36 per share.
December 2019: 10 million meeting participants a day use Zoom.
June 2020: 300 million meeting participants a day use Zoom.
July 2020: Zoom’s stock price zooms to $254 per share.
In 1960, singer Chubby Checker got the whole country Twisting on the dance floor. Sixty years later, a historic public health meltdown has got the whole country Zooming.
In our fraught zeitgeist, is this phenomenon a godsend or simply the end of real life as we once knew it?
SENSE OF DISLOCATION
As if Zoom doesn’t already keep warm bodies at enough of a remove from other warm bodies, there are Zoom virtual backgrounds to amplify the sense of dislocation, and to misdirect colleagues.
They know you at work as a fussbudget but—thanks to that colorful Caribbean sunset hiding your dirty laundry—those same co-workers never will glimpse what a slob you are at home.
This writer can get mighty messy himself in his home office, and his effort at erecting an ersatz environment backfired recently.
In his zeal to Zoomify his pedestrian persona on screen, this writer cleverly camouflaged the tacky workspace he toils in with a tony trompe l’oeil of a signature Frank Gehry Manhattan office building looming above his Max Headroom head. It turned out the writer was too clever by half. The slick maneuver was called out on Zoom by a disapproving colleague for being cheesy and—ouch!—inauthentic.
Graduating from tacky to cheesy isn’t exactly a quantum leap in interior design, but the shade-slinger is entitled to his snooty opinion. In truth, after all, the guy’s an ad agency creative director with a Madison Avenue pedigree, so his chops are USDA Prime.
The embarrassed writer was chastened to the point of quickly denuding his prettified faux background, mid-meeting, restoring the live backdrop of the wonky scribe stable where he dutifully hammers out words on an alphanumeric anvil.
Vowing to mend his wayward drift, the writer has since banned from his Zoom room all manner of virtual wallpaper. Found guilty of bad taste, it was sentenced to be unhung.
I’ve seen people appear in Zoom rooms so unexotic you assume they are the person’s everyday living space, only to realize that even normal-seeming spaces no longer can be trusted—some of them, too, turn out to be synthetic stand-ins for the organic venue the person doesn’t want to reveal. The Zoomer in that scenario evidently aspires to a grander lifestyle without the hassle and cost of actually moving.
I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already seen yourself. We know Zoom easily can bend reality to trick our eyes, but what about Zoom’s effect on our psyches, and on our innate need for close encounters of humankind that recall the old days, six months ago, when we were person-to-person instead of pixel-to-pixel?
Fair to say there’s hasn’t been such a longing to see people in more than two dimensions since 3D sensation “Creature from the Black Lagoon” drew throngs of 1950s moviegoers.
(Hey, that’s an idea even Westchester native Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t thought of yet—Zoom 3D! There’s even an appropriately assaultive name for him to call it: In Your Facebook.)
ZOOMING TO THE FUTURE
This rambling musing on Zooming is not meant to dismiss its compelling power to bring people together virtually, at a time that we are being prudently advised—and are maturely obliged—to keep our safe distance physically.
If Zooming is here to stay, and why shouldn’t it be for the right reasons, whither evolution?
To what degree will pandemically modified behavior, enabled by cybertools like Zoom, affect future consciousness?
In adulthood, will a member of today’s Generation Alpha (ages 0-15) reflexively tell a long-winded friend, “mute yourself”?
Will engagement with fewer than nine talking heads tiled across a screen trigger a paranoid sense of isolation (“Where did everybody go?”), if not a future form of clinical depression?
Is Zoom real life?
Or it is a sneak preview of mid-21st century homo sapiens’ perception of real life?
Bruce Apar is a writer, actor, consultant, and community volunteer. He can be reached at email@example.com; 914-275-6887.