Zoom Is Destroying Some of the Best Things About Freelancing and Life!
Yes, video conferencing tools like Zoom are destroying some of the best things about freelancing and even of life! That’s a deliberately strong statement.
Video conferencing has always been awful and until we get something like the holodeck it’s likely to remain so.
Are you old enough to remember the beginning of all this video conferencing? Those were the days when we still dressed up a bit for the office. If our company was tech minded and forward thinking they’d occasionally stage a video conference.
That meant we’d be gathered into the conference room for a video conference with clients or counterparts too far away to warrant the cost of a face-to-face meeting. In both offices, there would be at least two techs setting up a TV on a cart, an often star-shaped microphone in the middle of the conference table and a modestly large video camera, usually on a stand as well. Oh, and a phone on a speaker also on the table.
With screeching modems and general confusion about what time it was on the other coast, the video meeting would start off at least 15 minutes late. One boss or another would introduce themselves and the topic and if we were lucky the connection would break and we’d all eventually go back to our desks and get some work done.
If you missed this experience you missed a ton of frustration.
Obviously video conferencing works better these days
Video conferencing has improved, lots. There are still glitches that cause interruptions and frustrations, but mostly it works pretty well. We can use Zoom and other tools on our smart phones, tablets, laptop and desk tops — quite a big deal when you stop and think about it.
The confusions about how to set up a conference haven’t completely gone away. There are serious security issues and many of us still have real problems figuring out what time it is elsewhere. Despite these drawbacks it’s still amazing.
The ‘shelter in place’ or ‘work at home’ move brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has also meant that all sorts of groups of people are getting together by video. There was even a Zoom dance party last night near my home… well, had I gone I guess it would have been at my home as well as maybe yours. I hadn’t realized how stodgy I’d become until I found myself close to revolted by the idea of a Zoom dance party.
What’s wrong with Zoom and the others?
Like you, I’ve been exposed to and experimenting with Zoom and other video conferencing tools for a couple of months now. My experience includes everything from a two-way conversation practice session over less than a mile distance that fell apart when the technology refused to work to a group of about 20 or 30 from with participants from across the United States and around the world that worked well. Go figure.
By working well I mean the connection stayed connected, most people put their barking dogs away, and my Dudley the cat was the only animal that attended and that was mercifully brief and not planned.
Of course in both cases I had to get out of my pajamas and into at least a clean shirt or blouse, get my hair combed and some makeup on before I felt together enough to attend. I also had to be conscious of the fact I was wearing shorts, and no shoes, not exactly business casual. The solution to that is remembering to turning off the camera if I have to get up and refresh my coffee or something.
I had to be sure the light was proper, which in my case means adjusting doors, and curtains, sometimes two or three times to get it close to right. Rotating ceiling fans viable to the camera need to be turned off. I also had to make a decision about the mess on the couch that was in camera range. I cleaned it up. Now this prep does take way less time than most commutes, but it’s far different than rolling out of bed and starting to write after the coffee is made.
I also got to worry a bit because my roommate wasn’t up and it was likely he’d wake during the meeting and stumble through my ‘window.’ Fortunately I knew he’d be dressed.
Not one of these listed items did I ever have to do when working at home without the ‘benefit’ of video conferencing. At most I’d be talking on the phone and wouldn’t have to worry about what to wear until later in the day, if then.
I hadn’t realized how spoiled I’d become working at home before it became a thing backed up with video conferencing.
The worst part of Zoom
But the worst part of Zoom and video conferencing in general, is there I sit at home watching you sit there at your home. First you appear and then the next person who speaks is featured and round and round we go. If I smile at you someone else is likely to see it. We can’t make real eye contact. I can’t raise an eyebrow at you when someone makes a gaff and know you’re the only one who will get what I’m saying or doing.
I think it’s the eye contact I miss the most. Oh sure, if I make sure I’m looking right at the camera you may have a moment of a sense of eye contact with me, but I won’t feel it because I’m not looking you in the eye, but at a camera lens!
It’s not the same by a long shot. The pleasure I took at when first ‘seeing’ you is quickly diminished because there’s no true mutuality. I can’t decide to hold your gaze or let it go because our gazes never really click together. Nor can I refuse your gaze for the same reason. That’s a major part of human communication, and it’s totally missing in video conferencing. It’s a tad better on a two-way, but not really.
And your voice is wrong. Well, not wrong exactly, but the poor quality of computer sound means I don’t hear your particular timber. I’m not able to pick up nuance like stress, humor, flirtation, disgust, boredom — all those clues are missing. And all those are present during a conversation on a decent phone. I miss your voice, and I miss the information it gives me about our interaction.
Another truth is I also miss your smell. I’m not always conscious of this one, but sometimes enough to realize it’s gone. Apparently I don’t have to be aware of your fragrance or lack of it to pick up information that may move our conversation forward.
That may be why many of us find meetings by video conferencing so tiring. There’s so much missing our minds work hard to fill in the gaps, which, of course, is impossible. I’m going to have to train my mind and body not to expect real contact even though I’m seeing you, and maybe then I can relax.
We need to get conscious of the differences
I’m not really anti-video conferencing, although I do find myself resisting it more and more. I suspect what we need to do is get conscious of the differences in our ways of meeting. There are times when face-to-face, even with masks, makes all the difference. Eye contact works almost as well with masks as it does without them, at least in my experience. The eyes really do have it!
There are times when it’s good to see faces. The first time I attended a meeting with people I normally didn’t see often it was great. Should we zoom for every meeting? I doubt it. It’s at least a question worth asking.
Phones and phone conferences can be simpler substitutes for full-on video conferencing, particularly with people who are used to working together.
Like with so many tools, it’s tempting to think they solve more problems than they do. It takes awhile to begin to see that there’s no single answer that’s perfect. That’s why I’m giving extra thought to the next few video conferences I’m going to schedule. I may make some of them phone conferences. It’s worth thinking about.
Write and work and play well,
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