I’m a little late arriving to the video conference party. I’ve used some video-chat programs in the past. Now I’m forced to use this method of communication almost daily. Video phone call technology has been around for years. We just never chose to use it on an everyday basis, mostly because we didn’t have to.
I’ve used the FaceTime application in the past when I was an iPhone user. It seemed like overkill to me. I really didn’t need to see the person I was talking to. A simple phone call became a complicated mess. The novelty wore off quickly. Just leave a message, I’ll get back to you.
I’ve used Skype in the past as well, but only in case of emergencies. I got a call from a potential freelance client while I was on vacation in the mountains. The person wanted to interview me face-to-face. Setting up the call was nerve-wracking. Internet connections, frozen screens and annoying lag time added to frustration on both ends of the call. Needless to say, I didn’t acquire any new business after that call.
A few years ago my situation changed. My son moved to Japan. Video calls became an important part of my life. I needed to see the person I was talking to. A free application called LINE enabled me keep in touch internationally and instantaneously. I spoke with my son more while he was living in Tokyo than when he lived in Boston. The app had pixelation problems and intermittent connection glitches but it was worth it to see my son’s bright smile beaming from the other side of the world.
Moving forward to the age of COV-19, being self-quarantined has elevated the video phone call to a another level. New communication apps have taken center stage. Working from home gave me the privilege of attending my first Zoom meeting. A video conference call with multiple employees on multiple screens, what could go wrong? Before the meeting, the manager instructed everyone to turn their cameras off and just participate in audio mode. Perhaps that was for the best since working from home has now made wearing pants optional.
It seems almost everyone is now more comfortable with this new form of communication. Saturday night on-line cocktail parties emerged on the Google Hangouts app. My older son and his thirty-something-year-old friends thought it would be funny to invite me to their on-screen gathering just to watch the old guy try to log in to the group video chat. I thought I proved them wrong when my camera connected right away, but for some reason I couldn’t turn on my microphone. I spent the first 15 minutes participating in the conversation by way of hand signals and charades gestures. I gradually got the hang of it. It was fun reconnecting with everyone. By the third week of quarantine, the conversation grew sparse.
“So, what have you been doing?”
After the first two minutes of the group chat, everyone was caught up on current events.
Facebook’s Messenger video phone call app enables me to keep up a weekly screen chat with my ex-coworker and newfound friend Tim. Every Sunday morning we connect to review movies and television shows we’ve watched during quarantine. We talk music and swap views on politics. We share grocery shopping horror stories. It’s nice to commiserate with a friendly face even if the screen sometimes just shows the top of someone’s head. It’s not easy to find the right lighting and a flattering camera angle especially at our age.
From my iPad, my wife and I have video-chatted with our close friends who live in North Dartmouth. As special occasions pass when we would have been together, I miss them even more. Talking from separate living rooms can’t take the place of weekends on the cape sharing drinks and laughter in quiet lounges.
Not seeing my grandchildren face to face hurts the most. A glass screen can’t replace a visit in person. Last month, we enjoyed our virtual Easter egg coloring night. My wife’s multi-screen birthday celebration felt like it was missing something. We had lots of leftover cake and no one to help us eat it. We are determined to keep family traditions alive however possible.
Video calls have become the new normal. Even though the technology has been with us for years, it took a pandemic to make it go mainstream. Out of necessity, we have all been suddenly thrust into a new modern age. We are learning to adapt. Things that were commonplace a few months ago no longer exist. Times change, and thanks to the coronavirus they changed overnight. We are forced to accept these changes. Some things will never be the same and sadly, some things won’t be coming back at all.
In the eerily prescient words of the prophet Madonna from her ill-fated “Madame X” album: “Not everyone can come into the future / Not everyone that’s here is gonna last…”
Speak for yourself, Madonna. I’m here to stay. And I’m available for video-conference calls if you’d like to discuss it.