Kathleen Murphy column: We are not all cut out for Zoom
I've avoided video conferencing for years, but 2020 had other ideas.
In today’s world, it takes a certain type of courage to admit you are not a Zoom person.
I have always avoided video conferencing. I’m not even entirely sure why; I just know that the stilted and awkward means of holding a conversation over video does me in every time. My late husband used to travel a lot for his job. He worked in the business world, where online meetings and phone conferences were part of the game.
He thought it would be nice if, when he called me from the road, we could see each other. I apparently disagreed, as it took him five years to cajole me into one video call. We spent 15 minutes talking. In that time period I said, “Say that again,” and “Sorry, you go,” and “Ope!” more often than I had in the past year. There was a lot of nervous giggling, like I was on a first date. With my husband.
“Darling, I’m down here,” he patiently said more than once when my eyes inevitably drifted back to the little square in the corner. It held a fascinating tiny version of myself, doing everything I was doing. I was distracting myself.
He graciously realized he was asking for something I just couldn’t deliver, and asked to speak with the kids. They were at the eye-rolling stage by then, and had also accepted their dad’s request to video call five years prior, so I wasn’t surprised when two of them crammed into the screen and said “Just call her next time, Dad. That was painful.” My husband, ever the good man, did just that.
We never spoke of video conferencing again.
2020 had other ideas. My job transferred online, as so many did, and I found myself in the position of either video conferencing or … well … having no idea what was going on at work.
Reluctantly, I logged in the first day. I had prepared myself by watching a parody video that categorized all the different types of video conferencing people. I learned there were “fun background” people (my favorite is the talking head background from “The Office”), “walkers” (I get motion sickness watching them) and “parents” — so defined because they video conference in a closet. Near as I could tell, I was going to be a “constant drinker” — that person who constantly had a coffee cup or water bottle tipping back in front of my face.
The first thing I noticed was that video conferencing in a large group feels different than one-on-one video calls. Once I was logged in, I could say a quick “Hello!” then mute my microphone and blend into the background until I had something to say. This took away the awkwardness for me, but it also rendered me voiceless.
Then my book club went online. Followed by my grief support group. Finally, even my writing groups, naturally introverted and patient people by nature, decided they were tired of waiting and called for a Zoom meeting. I had to learn to speak.
It turned out I just needed the practice. It’s definitely more difficult to gauge facial expressions and mannerisms while video conferencing, but I’m getting better at watching for them. I can hide the little square of myself so I’m not so distracted. And I’m not as self-aware of all the times I say “Ope” and “Sorry, go ahead.” They still occur, mind you. I’m not an ace yet. I just don’t mind as much.
My family — none of whom are phone people, with one exception — finally decided since we weren’t going to be able to see each other for a while, we’d better set up a few Zoom meetings so we don’t forget how much we all talk over each other. That went well, too, though I morphed from “the drinker” to “the one whose kids/pets constantly interrupt.” Which was fine.
I still maintain that I am not a Zoom person. I’m not a phone person, either, and I’ve had four-plus decades to work on that, so perhaps my aversion to video conferencing was inevitable. But I am working on it, and I am getting better. Which makes me feel as though I might be able to handle 2020 after all.
I’ll see you on Zoom. But preferably not, if we can avoid it.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.