The COVID-19 pandemic seems like a mixed blessing for the video conference industry. On one hand, many of us are now Dick Tracy with a gee-whiz wristwatch while, on the other hand, spotty picture, sound, and connectivity -- to say nothing of this brave new world of etiquette pitfalls -- are regularly proving the genie not quite ready for this abrupt release from its bottle.
Just yesterday, I enjoyed a pleasant one-on-one call with a willing eighth-grade volunteer. The technology afforded a welcome moment of paradoxically remote connection. We got a little work done, sure, conferring about a piece of writing the student started for fun before this long pandemic pause, but the highlights for me were an impromptu tour through his house to see a bathroom renovation in progress and a hands-on tutorial about a board game called Galaxy Defenders, in which the student and his brother have been losing themselves lately. To get to those worthy points, I realized at the call's appointed start time -- when I remained all alone -- that I actually needed to teach the student how to join because a link embedded in a calendar invitation is not necessarily intuitive for most tweens.
Later in the day, I had a call with a colleague and another group session with a dozen far-flung family members. Those tries were fraught compared to the student conference. When available, video signals came across blurry or pixelated; microphones failed to deliver reliably; internet connections bucked and reared, throwing us off our calls. (My brother-in-law, whose routine is remote work, reported, "I heard Zoom's telling employees not to host calls that start at the top or bottom of the hour, to ease off on bandwidth demands.")
With our routines upended by social distancing and an increasing number of shelter-in-place orders, we find ourselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. It's where we're calling from, to borrow a short-story title from writer Raymond Carver.