Now that Zoom has become the video-conferencing platform du jour, there are a few things we should all remember. Yes, it’s a wonderful way to stay connected during this time of social distancing, but, like all tools, we must be careful how we use it. A lawn mower is nice, too, as long as you don’t run it over the garden hose.
First and foremost, do not be deceived by Zoom’s seemingly informal nature. It may seem like you’re just “getting together” with friends and family for a relaxed “social visit,” but make no mistake: You are being judged. Everything that appears in your little square frame is being noticed and evaluated for better or worse: Wallpaper? Really? Who uses wallpaper anymore? Tolstoy and Proust in the bookcase? Nice try. I know she reads Stephen King. A still-life painting of fruit? What is this—the 18th century?
I know you believe this because you’re doing the same to them.
The only way to avoid such harsh judgment is to sit in front of a plain white wall, and even that’s risky. Is he in an institution? Have their furnishings been repossessed? My advice is to select the “audio only” option. It may seem anti-social to talk over a black screen but it’s better than letting them see your collection of Elvis memorabilia.
And don’t forget your own personal looks. Just because you’re lounging around in the privacy of your home doesn’t mean you should look that way. With 23 people watching, privacy is the last thing you have. First, wear a hat so they can’t see your real hair color. Then throw a business jacket over your pajamas so it looks like you really are working from home. And for goodness’ sake, alert your spouse or partner that you will be on a Zoom meeting during such-and-such a time so they don’t walk out behind you stark naked and ask where you put the clean towels. This will not simply embarrass you for the moment. It will wind up on the internet and embarrass you for the rest of your life.
All that virtual backgrounds do are remind your fellow Zoomers of all the wonderful places they can’t go!
As for small children, I don’t have to tell you how many ways things could go wrong, and any method of restraint I might suggest is against the law. You might as well resign yourself to the fact that your 3-year-old will do something to brand you as a bad parent. So be it.
And pets. Please—don’t hold them up and wiggle their paws so they can “say hello” to everybody. I’m sure your cat or dog is cute but nobody cares. Really. Nobody.
Another way to discourage prying eyes is by using one of the virtual Zoom backgrounds, like a beach in Hawaii or the Grand Canyon. Don’t. It’s not uplifting; it’s depressing. All it does is remind your fellow Zoomers of all the wonderful places they can’t go! The same with the app that lets you turn your face into some other, supposedly humorous, object. There is a famous video going around the internet (remember what I said about cyber immortality?) of a boss who thought it would be fun to start her weekly employee Zoom meeting using one of these images, only to discover she didn’t know how to turn it off. The result was a serious 45-minute discussion about horizontal-axis wind turbines led by a potato.
Along these same lines, if somebody tells you to hit Alt+F4 for a better view, don’t do it. It will close your window and you’ll have to listen to 47 people laughing at how you fell for the joke. The only way out is to hope some hacker Zoom bombs the meeting with a video of Wayne Newton singing “Danke Schoen.” That will get them off your back.
Zoom’s popularity has, well, zoomed because it’s so easy to use. We’ve all experienced an elderly family member appearing on the screen and shouting, “I did it! I did it!” But there’s one thing you must practice beforehand: signing off. There’s nothing worse than waving goodbye to everybody and then having them watch while you fumble around trying to find out how to leave the meeting. You’ll stand up, they’ll see your navel, you’ll swear, they’ll laugh, you’ll look like a fool. It’s not the worst thing, but after a sentimental get-together full of I miss you’s and Stay safe’s and Love you’s … it just looks bad.
John Cadley is a former advertising copywriter, freelance writer and musician living in Fayetteville, New York.