The Tyranny Of Zoom

At first it was just a bit of fun. A way to fit in socially, to be one of the gang. It seemed harmless enough and, accompanied by a few drinks, it gave a little bit of a pep to the evening’s entertainments. But I quickly found myself using it more and more, until it became a daily habit.

Then the start time moved forward, little by little, incrementally, every day. Before I knew it, it had become a hellish carousel that I just couldn’t get off. I simultaneously hated it and needed it. It had
consumed me.

I’m talking, of course, about Zoom.

Journalism 1.0 insists that, at this point, I explain to the uninitiated, what Zoom is. But there are no uninitiated anymore. Everyone now knows about Zoom, just another word they’ve had to learn along with furlough, coronavirus and asymptomatic.

Zoom is everywhere. In the past, I probably would have said it’s spreading like a contagion, but that’s maybe not the most sensitive metaphor to use just now. In the last couple of months, we’ve
done birthday celebrations, singalongs, catch-ups, work meetings, school lessons, kid playdates, book groups, even sleepovers, all of it on Zoom. I’ve never seen so much of my friends and family.

Only I can’t really see them. I can see the shape of them, sitting in family groups, slightly pixelated, a head roughly the size of the Queen’s on a postage stamp. It’s not the same. You can’t enjoy the
twinkle in someone’s eye, the curl of their eyelashes or shape of their dimples. All you do is sit and look at their blurred outlines and pass silent judgement on their kitchen décor.

Only you don’t even get to do that. Not really. Because most of the time, you’re writing. Writing down answers. Because Zoom has led to an exponential growth in quizzing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a quiz. I really, really do. As a teenager I was always that sad sap who would suggest breaking out the Trivial Pursuit at a party (though this was also partly a distraction exercise to make sure I was never, ever made to dance). On one date with a girl, fairly early on in our relationship. We spent £50 in a quiz machine and I had a blister on my index finger from hitting the answer button so often. I knew she was a keeper, and she’s currently downstairs, teaching our kids. By the sound of things, this lesson’s about how to shout.

In a group quiz with my wife’s family, my father-in-law did an entire round on the railway network, because he used to work as an engineer on the signalling system. I suppose we should be grateful he wasn’t a colorectal surgeon…

The point is, I bow to nobody in my love of a good quiz. But, for all that is holy, could people please stop suggesting them. We’re currently on three-a-week. And they involve multiple households, with every one asking ten questions. We are in one group with seven other families, and the quiz has become an exercise in longevity. I think the ultimate winner will be decided by whoever is the last to die of old age. In a group quiz with my wife’s family, my father-in-law did an entire round on the railway network, because he used to work as an engineer on the signalling system. I suppose we should be grateful he wasn’t a colorectal surgeon.

It’s just too much. Bizarrely, lockdown has become too sociable for me. I want to spend it drinking wine and watching Netflix, not stressing out over whether Pakistan or Indonesia has the highest population, or how many Oscars Katherine Hepburn won. 

I didn’t mind at first, when all calls were limited to 40 minutes. But now they go on forever. If it’s not a quiz, it’s a friendly chat, which generally means everyone watches each other mainlining Merlot and slagging off the government. As the bottles pile up, everyone starts to talk over each other, and you end up having a miniature Tower of Babel on your coffee table. It’s very irritating. Nothing goes down worse than a joke that has had to be repeated six times, and as that’s pretty much all I bring to any chat, I’m rendered redundant. I’d happily slope off, but you can’t even do that. At a party, you can nip outside, or go and hide in the loo, or even bugger off home, and basically nobody will notice. 

As soon as the jury had a little recovered from the shock of being upset, and their slates and pencils had been found and handed back to them, they set to work very diligently to write out a history of the aBut on a Zoom call, if you slip away, you leave a large, empty box where you were sitting. Your absence will be duly noted. 

The only person I know who continues to resist the pull of Zoom is my mother. In spite of my burgeoning reservations a few weeks ago, I called her (after checking Countryfile had finished) and suggested that she join a Zoom chat so that we could all see each other face to face. Her somewhat withering reply was “Darling, I know perfectly well what you look like. I don’t need to see your face.” Then she had to go. Antiques Roadshow was starting. Sensible woman.