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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

I’m not always happy with Zoom. Like last Friday when I kept a group of patient listeners waiting while I struggled to start my PowerPoint presentation. But when it did work, it was beautiful and people in Honolulu, Palo Alto, Carlsbad, and Indiana were able to chat and learn about 10th-century alchemy together. On Zoom.

My favorite thing about Zoom is the way it brings our family together on Sunday evenings to talk share our news and talk about the pandemic experience from at least six states scattered from coast to coast, the Midwest, and Hawaii. Even when we could travel we couldn’t all get together and share the ordinary news. Now it’s: “How hot is it where you are?” “How the baby’s grown!” “Did you get your school books yet?” “I love your hair!” Kitchen table talk at 3,000 miles apart.

The company isn’t that new. Founded by Eric Yuan, they adopted the name Zoom in 2012, from the name of a book, Zoom City by Thacher Hurd, “for ages 1 and up.” The first clients were educational institutions, starting with Stanford University in 2012 but Zoom soon expanded to include healthcare, government, financial, and business applications. The company went public in April 18, 2019, only 10 months before the pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020. Then things really took off. They even have an annual Zoomtopia conference for the most innovative ways people use Zoom.

But I don’t think they ever anticipated what a personal impact Zoom would have on so many people. Here are some ways it’s part of my life:

Birthday Bash–Coast to coast!
  • Gathering the family for my 75th birthday party.
  • Watching the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s Love’s Labour’s Lost together in real time with my son and his wife in Hawaii and my granddaughter in Vista. The actors were on Zoom each in their own homes with coordinated backdrops and costumes. We mirrored it on our television screen.
Love’s Labour Lost — Coast to coast!
  • Worship services:
    • I attend St. John’s Episcopal on Sunday morning. Zoom makes it interactive, which I like.
    • My neighbor attends Sunday services on Zoom from a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles. They start beating a drum a half-hour before the service so everyone can chant together.
    • A friend back East attends an anti-racism meeting through her synagogue and they break into chat rooms of five people to discuss the issues.
    • Our church and many others offer Bible study and Book Clubs, using breakout rooms for small-group discussion.
  • Last week I watched a travel Zoom presentation from Globus showing great places to go and all their innovations to make travel safer in 2021.
  • Choral singing is tricky on Zoom because everyone’s system has a different speed, but it can be done by recording each voice individually and synching the choir after the fact. I’ve seen it done and it works beautifully. I think our chorus will try it soon.
  • Next Monday after two family rehearsals, I’m giving a lecture on Al-Razi and Alchemy for a college class, combining Zoom and PowerPoint.

And that’s just me! So I started asking my family and Facebook friends how Zoom is a part of their lives now, and here’s what I found out:

  • Nerd’s Day Zoomers where Mensa members have a 15-minute presentation on almost anything followed by a social hour.
  • Gathering with the stitching group every week to visit and stitch.
  • Youth groups such as Students for Life and Camp Emmaus, gathering to socialize and enjoy games like “Mafia.” (see link below).
  • AA meetings.
  • Bridge group where the group socializes on Zoom while playing bridge using Bridge Base Online.
  • A company using Zoom to introduce new clients to the company staff who will be helping them find the right candidate for their job opening.
  • A pot-luck dinner group, now meeting on Zoom on their regular nights to catch up over an appetizer and beverage before having their own dinner.
  • Roll calls. Lab inspections. Monthly happy hours.
  • One friend said that members of their grief support group had so much trouble getting on the application that they gave up. That was the only “failure” story I heard, but I’m sure there are more. I wonder how often we don’t hear about the people who give up because it’s complicated. Yes, I know it’s “easy,” but everyone has different devices and a different range of experience. And, yes, we would all like to be face-to-face.

Finally, last night I watched the first presidential debate of 2020 with friends on Zoom and some family members texting on the side. I have to admit, they helped make it more bearable for me.

The 2019 Zoomtopia innovation winners were geology lecturers from the University of Otago in New Zealand who involved their students long-distance in their explorations aboard the drilling ship JOIDES as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program. They won two admissions to the Zoomtopia Conference in San Jose, California.

This year the 2020 Zoomtopia is offering awards in 5 categories. And guess what the winners get to do? Stay home and join the 2020 conference on Zoom. Oh, and attend the next in-person conference in San Jose.

But I think all of us who are teaching, learning, socializing, stitching, singing, performing, and praying on Zoom should at least get honorable mention. We are using it to hold our world together.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“The Boss Says It’s OK to Take a Break From Zoom. Why Are You Still on Video Calls?” Wall Street Journal, Sept. 28, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-boss-says-its-ok-to-take-a-break-from-zoom-why-are-you-still-on-video-calls-11601311906

“The business lunch will eventually be back — because Zoom can’t replace everything,” Washington Post, Sept. 29 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/voraciously/wp/2020/09/29/the-business-lunch-will-eventually-be-back-because-zoom-cant-replace-everything/

“Nice long Zoom chat with a friend,” Lake County Record Bee, Sept. 29, 2020. https://www.record-bee.com/2020/09/29/nice-long-zoom-chat-with-a-friend/

“How Zoom Conquered Video Conferencing,” Forbes, Sept. 30, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerdooley/2020/09/30/how-zoom-conquered-video-conferencing/#4455b3c25a97

Additional references:

For how Zoom got its name, see: “Where did Zoom come from?” Blog by Jim Scheinman, April 18, 2019. https://medium.com/@jimscheinman/where-did-zoom-come-from-96793bff6df0

Zoom on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoom_Video_Communications

Camp Emmaus. https://www.sdcatholic.org/event/camp-emmaus-2019/

Mafia (party game). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mafia_(party_game)

Bridge Base Online. https://www.bridgebase.com/

Zoomtopia Conference. https://www.zoomtopia.com/

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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