Remember conference calls? Audio-only phone calls that connected multiple users? (Wistful sigh)
I miss those.
But I get it. And I applaud the recent, world-changing advancements in telecommunications since the start of the COVID pandemic around March 2020. I’d also venture to guess that the proliferation of video conferencing, given its impact on workplace flexibility and online learning, is among the most significant and lasting products of the pandemic.
Sure, we’d had FaceTime and Skype for a while, but not as part of our daily routines. Those were reserved for special occasions, calls with grandparents and other, shall we say, visually important communications.
But now we have a multitude of commonly used platforms. I’ll call them, collectively, Zoogleams (Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams). The bigwigs built a better mousetrap — several, in fact. And separately, of course. Competitively.
Our digital calendars and email inboxes are filled with invites and links to meetings. Every kid in the country, for more than a year, used a classroom version for online learning.
They’ve pushed regular, audio phone calls further into the recesses of our least-used phone apps. In fact, our columnist Mark Hedden recently apologized for calling me on the phone instead of texting or emailing, as he usually does. “Sorry to make you answer — and talk on — an actual phone call,” Hedden said. “I know how intrusive that feels these days.”
So strange, but true, we agreed. It’s bizarre. We carry our phones everywhere, can’t live without them. But we so rarely use them as an actual telephone. I even got one of those fancy new Samsung Flip phones, mainly because I was tired of accidentally answering a call I would have ignored while pulling the phone from my purse, touching only the edges.
I get the attraction of video calls for business owners and bosses. They require professionalism and accountability. Plus, they’re scheduled in advance. They sort of have to be. You can’t — or shouldn’t — join a Zoom call while still getting dressed, applying makeup, feeding the cat or doing anything unrelated to the topic. Well, you can, but that requires turning off your camera, which sends everyone on the call leaping to conclusions about what you’re secretly doing. Insert your own CNN joke here.
Video calls, once relegated to the space-age, cartoon world of the Jetsons — with their robot maids, flying cars and jet packs — are now as much a part of our lives as text messaging and camera phones.
While I can’t dispute the benefits of video conferencing, I can lament the passing of the more comfortably anonymous audio calls in which appearance was not a factor. (Not that I was ever doing anything improper in a place I wasn’t supposed to be, boss.)
Also, think about your typical Zoogleams experience. Where do you find yourself looking the most? At yourself, of course. Just as we instantly look at ourselves in any still photo (and deem any shot in which we look good a “great photo”), we also spend most of a video call evaluating our own hair, makeup, facial expressions and posture. It’s true, admit it.
We also have yet to master eye contact in a video call. We need to remember to look at our camera lens, not at the images on our screen. But of course, that would require us to stop looking at ourselves.
But now that we’ve mastered the Jetsons-style video calls, can we please make their jet packs our next priority?