First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly for 20.9.21
A friend of mine stormed out of a Zoom meeting the other day. I am so entranced by this idea, I’ve been visualising it in my mind’s eye ever since.
In my version of her story – and I’m bringing some personal experiences to it – I picture a gallery view of attendees, a sort of B-grade “Celebrity Squares”. You already know you don’t like them. Partly that’s because you adore your friend and you know how this ends, but it is also because this is a serious board meeting yet (again, this is my version) someone is eating something from a bowl which is probably soup but makes you think “porridge”, and others have their camera pointing under their chins or straight up a nose. Also, the person who is supposed to be talking has their microphone on mute, and several people who aren’t supposed to be talking are unmuted so you can hear their email notifications go ping and something that could be either chewing or scratching.
Meanwhile, the host is aggressively refusing to acknowledge my friend’s request to speak. This has been going on for some time. Each time she unmutes herself to make her point, he uses his “Host” powers to mute her, like a boardroom game of whac-a-mole. Finally, gesticulating dramatically and posting a furious note in the Chat, my friend hits “Leave Meeting”, exiting Zoom and abandoning the checkerboard of ingrates to stew in their own virtual juice.
She said it was extremely satisfying. Right up until it was over. Deciding to go, reaching for the mouse, hovering over the button, the decisive “click”, and the emptying of her screen? Yes! But then there she was, alone, in her living room. Makes you realise how much the dramatic exit owes to the angry walkout, the door slam, and the furious drive home. It’s enough to make you reconsider your fantasy of being able to teleport.
It is remarkable how much the video/telephone combo has become part of our lives. Last Saturday night I spent four hours at an AGM for the comedy industry. True story. Also true is that it was on Basic Zoom so the meeting ended every forty minutes which for other people might have been a deterrent but for comedians on a Saturday night in lockdown? All 50-odd attendees logged back on each time with a fresh supply of snacks.
Back when I had the option of being in a room with other humans, I avoided Facetime and Skype, and I’d never heard of “Zoom” until I learnt other words like “social distancing” and “bubble”. Fair to say it has caught on – on one day in March 2020, the Zoom app was downloaded 2.13 million times.
Last October I hosted a national conference for 700 women from my home office, joking that I may or may not have been wearing pyjama pants, they would never know. But here’s another thing I’ve learnt – even in the virtual world, I dress up for it. I can’t access a formal attitude if I’m not in some level of formal wear.
I suddenly understand and appreciate the old-school dress code for radio – men in bowties, women in evening gowns. Maybe I don’t go that far, but I put on shoes and clean my teeth.
Besides, you need your proper pants on if you’re going to leave your camera going so they can watch you as you storm out.