By Margaretta wa Gacheru (March 2020)
Now that we are all getting used to confinement, or self-quarantining as they say in the brave new world of COVID-19, we have found the coronavirus is a leveler or equalizer, putting us all at odds with our fellow human beings.
Social-distancing, being a new term invented in 2020, has necessitated that we, the public globally, have had to learn how to do without hugs, handshakes, kisses and every sort of physical affection or contact.
As the African-American journalist-‘jail bird’ or political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal put it recently, speaking from his jail cell (where he’s incarcerated for supposedly murdering a cop), put it, “I’m doing fine in here where I’m confined just like the rest of you are.”
The one salvation many of us have discovered (some of us, late in the game) is the value of social media. Both young and old are increasingly communicating on either Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the old fashioned email, texting and telephone. The younger folk have also moved on to platforms like Snapchat etc.
There is one media platform which has been around for some time but in recent days, has been ‘discovered’ by people who’d never spent time talking face-to-face on either Skype, Facetime or even Messenger before. And that is Zoom.
Zoom is actually a video conference system founded in 2011 by Chinese-American, Eric S. Yuan. Yuan, 50, came up with the idea that same year while he was vice president of engineering at Cisco Systems. But since the company took no interest in his visionary concept, he quit and founded Zoom. Initially, he struggled to get his online conferencing concept accepted. But today, he is a billionaire said to be worth $7.5 billion and counting.
It was only this year that Yuan was included in Forbes’ list of billionaires. Coincidentally, this year is also when global awareness of the mysterious coronavirus began claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. It was also the time when social-distancing, hand-sanitizing and face masks became essential items meant to save people’s lives.
The virus has creating too many global and personal problems to rehearse here. Suffice it to say that human communication, talking and seeing at least the faces of friends and professional colleagues, has truly played a life-affirming role. And this is where Zoom comes in.
There are other video conferencing systems like GoToMeeting and others. But it’s the wide-spread use of Zoom that has made Yuan a multi-billionaire overnight and frankly thrown a life-line to many businesses, families, churches and possibly temples and mosques.
But it’s also thrown non-techie folks into a whole new arena where they have had to learn the ‘how to’s’ of Zoom: how to see your face, hear your voice and the voice of others as well as how to go silent or invisible while still hearing the voices of your neighbors, workmates, loved ones or even your pastor, rabbi, imam or possibly even your pope.
Then there’s the issue of wanting not to show off your messy bedroom so Zoom can allow you to change the backdrop of your visual rectangle. You may want to look academic, sporty or even vacationing and speaking from the Bahamas or Bali or even Mumbai. All those images are easily projected with Zoom although you have to know which buttons to click and when to click which one.
There are a whole lot of so-called ‘Webinars’ that one can find ‘out there’ on the internet that can guide you in navigating this whole new world of Zoom.
As it turns out, once you try it, it becomes second nature. That is, if your book club, church, company or social welfare group tells you to get on Zoom and sends you the link to click onto.
But then there is an etiquette to Zoom, meaning a way to socialize without being too noisy, too invisible or too inept not to bother to find out how best to communicate via Zoom.
For instance, the mute button comes in handy if you have noisy babies or barking dogs. You may need to show your face when everybody else is so doing. Otherwise, you’ll be considered anti-social. There is even a ‘raise your hand’ button that enables your Zoom ‘host’ to call on you as you wait your turn to speak.
In all, Zoom is helping people not to go crazy in this time of isolation. Not that Zoom is a savior, but almost.