I’m worried about Zoom. I understand how marvelous it is, but still …
To the good, it enabled the miracle of COVID-free work during the worst of the pandemic. Today your employer remains 2000 miles away without requiring your relocation. Zoom also permits a (sort of) face-to-face friendship with someone you never met and might never meet.
Yet I am worried about Zoom and its unintended maiming of people skills. In the Information Age, we have lost personal contact with our human brethren, and Zoom furthers that disappearing act. I fear for our youth, who have known no other way of being and shall be less equipped to manage outside of the dimensions of a rented apartment.
If you are physically shut in and shut out of the world of trees and grass, this video service is a blessing. That said, standing alone or nearly alone, especially for a person who hasn’t overcome his people-to-people discomfort in the real world, Zoom is a permanent bandaid preventing the fulfillment of yearning even on summer’s most inviting days.
A peek-a-boo computer life is then nearly all of your life.
Next stop, the Age of Alienation and Loneliness.
How did those of us who lived in the B.Z. era (before Zoom) overcome awkwardness and find comfort? What rite of passage led to success in business and social situations?
All the tutorials were free. Right there in school, the playground, the ball field, the church, the office, or the dance studio. Others were around you, talking, laughing, working, and looking at you.
Eyeball to eyeball and close at hand.
We need social experience and someone to touch. You can enjoy many things on Zoom but can’t purchase the satisfaction of shaking hands and holding hands. You can’t hug on Zoom, kiss, or reach for a tissue to wipe away another’s tears. Nor will two bodies become one, attaching, embracing, and obliterating the solitary nature of life, our one-bodied universal predicament.
I’ll grant you pets provide close-by companionship. A dog, for example, offers tactile warmth, tenderness, and an enthusiastic greeting. He initiates his version of tongued affection, wetness to the max. Thereby, man’s best friend achieves an element of the touch we need — up to a point.
No matter how much the animal gives of his earnest devotion, he remains an unknowing creature, unable to comprehend our lives as can a partner who possesses the heart’s secrets.
Zoom was preceded by other inventions separating one person from another. Before automobiles, one might have walked to the bus stop and chatted with strangers. You cannot reveal your soul while dodging traffic in a car empty of intimates.
Before home air conditioning arrived in the 1950s, hot days brought people onto the stoops of their buildings to avoid being boiled by the hallucinogenic heat inside. Fred and Joe would talk about baseball, work, and their oldest children’s achievements or troubles. And, if the night was a muggy one, public parks delivered a sleeping destination where one encountered other sweltering souls. The experience was shared.
Friendships that might have arisen from daily routines and sidewalk meetings now take dedicated effort. No one’s fault, but the world has changed. Zoom is one more step.
The shy and the anxious, already prone to avoidance, take heart in the virtual life of such inventions, the life of almost but not quite real faces and voices.
The more of us who take to the ease of the safe place in our home space, the fewer who find the necessity to befriend a fellow man.
Yesterday’s opportunities to learn about making contact and finding romance have been discarded. Or perhaps they are to be found in unread novels of times past, collecting dust on a closet shelf. Big cities chill the stranger with anonymity and indifference. Few look and smile in the citified rush and cell phone distraction. A potential love of your life or new best friend ambles past, and you don’t even know it.
Hesitancy about spending time within the peopled world is reasonable. Crime and the lingering danger of COVID are enough to make us pause. But safety is a relative thing. You still have yourself to contend with, including the loneliness and depression you bring as the entry fee to the dark night of your soul.
Drugs, too, find a way inside your flat despite the doors you choose to lock.
A May 2022 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimates that the number of working age Americans (25 to 54 years old) with substance use disorders has risen by 23% since pre-pandemic, to 27 million. A figure that’s about one in six of people who were employed around the time of the study. It’s caused a 9% to 26% drop in labor force participation that Karen Kopecky, one of the authors of the report, says continues today.
But there is more:
The drug recovery firm Sierra Tucson concluded from a November 2021 survey that about 20% of US workers admitted to using recreational drugs while working remotely, and also to being under the influence during virtual meetings. Digital recovery clinic Quit Genius found in August 2022 that one in five believe that substance use has affected their work performance, also according to a survey.
Is this self-medication? Perhaps. Social isolation has done harm.
Life demands much of us. Therapists are oversupplied with calls from good people challenged by current conditions, some of which were created to improve life. Zoom has given the gift of such improvements, but it is a knife cutting both ways. At its best, it connects the unconnected. But, if you are able-bodied, beware. It starts by slicing off your bottom half and freezes the rest of you in place — a hiding place.
Yes, our world holds dangers — plenty of them. But opportunity too. I would take a chance with the human race if I were you. Zoom’s tv show is a counterfeit. Close, but not near enough to touch.
Once upon a time, long before Zoom, I was you. Since I wanted friendship, the old-fashioned way of presenting myself was the only option. Things got better because I rolled the dice and took the one road that would take me there, potholes and all.
Nostalgia, you say? Just a bit. But most people are decent and still walk the earth. Here’s hoping you meet a few off-screen — and smile.
The top image is Conversation, featuring a photo of Sithembele Mbete in 2020. It is followed by a snapshot called Wedding Hugs by Braden Kowitz from 2007. The canine picture entitled Pretty Please is the work of Sheila Sund. All three of these were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
The final image is a cropped version of Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life from Wikiart.org.
The Zoom Effect