The COVID-19 emergency has transformed everything. For many of us (at least those living in states where governors have taken necessary action), the lives we lived just weeks ago feel like a heat mirage we may have once passed through now receding ever further into the rearview mirror. Like the Romans crossing the Rubicon, or the Voyager spacecraft leaving the solar system, there’s no going back.
Instead, for me, there is only the interface known as Zoom.
I understand and even embrace Zoom’s necessity, and its seeming ability to collapse space and bring us together. I’m able to devote my days to a job I believe in deeply at Lake Forest College, and work with my far-flung colleagues in support of our mission to our students. Zoom makes it happen; it’s like a Mad Magazine fold in, where the picture we think we see is changed when we simply press along the seams marked by dotted lines.
We wave excitedly when we see each other, and there’s a certain pleasure in the picture when it presents itself immediately before us.
Yet, the platform also performs a viral arithmetic: I spend more time with Zoom on any given workday than the sum of the time I spend with my wife and two daughters. My family travels through entire days filled with tedious repetitions of e-learning, playwriting, board games, skateboarding (alone), and crafts, while I engage in a single, all-encompassing videoconferencing marathon.
And yet, do not, I repeat, do not, allow Zoom to overhear me whisper this: I think we may be approaching the singularity.
Yep, the stuff of so much sci-fi dystopia: the never-as-theoretical-as-we-might-like moment when our collective dependence upon technology, coupled with its endlessly ecstatic growth in capacity, crosses a point from which there is simply no turning back. Hence, the Rubicon. Things have changed.
Did you know about Zoom before? I admit to having caught its name on the wind, as one might be aware of a streaming series other enjoy and watch. You don’t say. Sounds intriguing, but I don’t have time for that. Or didn’t.
Do you know about Zoom now? If so, you may be part of the one of the 200 million individual Zoom reports are holding meetings each month? There are only 145 million people in Russia. Welcome to Zoom planet, but it’s not all smooth Zooming.
I’m late to Zoom calls because the last Zoom call is running long. Very long. I’m frozen. The audio needs to be unmuted on your end. No, it’s not me. And yes, that’s my cat and your dog. No, I don’t think they would be friends in real life. No, this is not real life. Ok, fair point. I guess it is real life now. What’s that? No, you’re frozen now. I didn’t catch the last part. You sounded pixelated. Wait, that’s better. No, it’s not. You still sound distant.
Yes, I suspect your camera works just fine even though you are only participating by voice. Ok, thank for using the camera. No, you can’t see everyone in the filmstrip-type view, you have to click on gallery view. No, I don’t know how to do it on your machine. I’m not on a phone. I’m using the desktop app. What are you using? Wait, you cut out. Keep your computer on, mute it, and then call back in so we can hear and see you at the same time. No, you have to mute your mic because we are getting interplay between the two machines. You are echoing into yourself. It’s like listening to Syd Barrett on headphones folded inside an interstellar accordion.
Inside that space, though, we are actually working and collaborating, even though I can’t tell how annoyed you actually are by all of this. Or how exhausted we are by all of this. The endless Zooming, the perpetual state of immediacy to the conference during the crisis—we must talk together, this way, because seeing our faces reminds us of all the things we meant to each other before. All the ways we once bodily inhabited the same spaces.
The COVID-19 emergency requires sustained activity—whether isolation, social distancing, or enforced togetherness. These are all refractions of the Zoom conference. Your life appears to be happening off screen and occasionally bursting into view, but there is no boundary between the room you are standing in and the life you are leading.
Zoom is millions of windows into the collective state of uncertainty. Of unwinding. Of direct address situating itself as a facsimile of sanity.
When we Zoom, we are humans together, but are no longer ourselves. We exist to Zoom.
And that this primary occupation has no apparent end makes my Zoom time seem plastic, like Salvador Dali’s watches endlessly self-replicating as they unwind in The Persistence of Memory. The hands are always moving and melting, but we’re not quite getting anywhere. We’re approaching an event horizon where the time I spend with this software becomes the time I spend with myself.
Put another way: You’re not frozen. I’m frozen. But hang in there, we’ll be moving again, together, in time.
Zoom statistic referenced above: