Once upon a time (remember when we could go outside?), that didn’t used to be a controversial position. Video conferencing was the preserve of tedious shit like webinars, and catching up with family overseas – things we could all agree sucked harder than a supermassive black hole.
But that was in the before-time. Now video conferencing is how we conduct all human interaction; we’re all spending hours a week looking at a screen with a grid of little videos. If you’re lucky there’s only four or five little videos, stuttering in and out of life as connections creak under the strain; if you’re not lucky there might be 20+ tiny faces, all struggling to figure out where the mute button is and whether they hit it already.
I suppose I should be clear that I do actually like my friends, my colleagues, my therapist, my D&D group… almost everyone in these little grids is somehow important to me and I’m genuinely glad to be listening intently to them as I discreetly check my digital reflection in the corner of the screen and wonder if it’s time to take the beard clippers to my head (remember hairdressers?).
But it’s still bad. Someone’s invariably echoing, and the only solution is for them to mute themselves, so of course they forget to unmute so the next thing they have to say is lost forever. Or they just don’t bother to say it, because they know by the time they’ve clicked the button the moment will have passed. Even if you’ve somehow got an echo-free way to keep your mic on, the latency makes it so much harder to figure out when it’s okay to speak so conversations just descend into a mess of people either talking over each other or saying nothing because what’s the point?
I’ve never been the most readily-social person. I love to be social, and I think I’ve even gotten pretty good at it, after just 34 years of trying to amuse and hopefully impress friends and strangers alike at parties, by the watercooler, and in line at the post office (remember when there was a line at the post office?).
Being social doesn’t come naturally though. Rewarding and valuable as it generally is, it’s always used a lot of energy – I need to have a “full tank,” as they say, and this video conferencing bullshit drains the tank like a fuel line that’s sprung a leak. Maybe it’s not being able to interject with a well-timed bon-mot, maybe it’s the extra work of reading facial expressions and body language from a 300px tall video with more artefacts than the Smithsonian (remember museums?), maybe it’s playing Jackbox fucking Party for the tenth time this fucking week.
Whatever it is, it fucking sucks, and I desperately hope I’m not the only one.
I hate video conferences, but I love my friends. So let’s fire up Zoom and squint at the grid of little faces, and raise our hands to talk like schoolchildren, and patiently explain that everyone can hear themselves echoing out of your laptop if you don’t fucking hit mute, Steve. Because the alternative is to be truly alone which is never as good an idea as it might seem, especially in this economy.