Our columnists Guy Smith and Will Evans debate the pros and cons of using new meeting video technology, Zoom.
Will Evans basks in the delights and Guy Smith scratches at the irritations. Find out why they love it or loathe it.
See also: Opinion: Time for a Zoom tsar to get farming back on track
Me and young Will Evans (scroll down below this article and you’ll find him) have been known to compare notes when writing our Opinion columns.
This week we thought we’d weigh up the joys, or otherwise, of not actually meeting people in person, but rather by shouting into a laptop like a loon.
Unsurprisingly, I am playing the part of Mr Scrooge, while my Welsh friend takes the role of sweet Bob Cratchett, for whom the “virtual” experience is nothing but the purest bliss.
If you’ve never come across Mr Evans’ immense social media presence, I can only assume you must live on another planet. On reflection, even if you did live on another planet, there’s still a good chance you might have heard his podcasts.
See also Diversified farmers’ guide to using social media
The thing is, I’ve had enough of Zoom and Teams meetings where some of the participants really do need to keep their faces a little further away from the camera.
Then there are the technically challenged types, who manage to unmute themselves as they start on a packet of cheese and onion, only to mute themselves when they speak.
There’s also the permanent distraction of whatever happens to be over their shoulder in the background. Is that really Mein Kampf next to The Joy of Sex on that bookshelf?
And didn’t those calendars with that sort of specialist photography die out in the 1980s? And why are they still on Miss November when it’s December?
Then there’s the menagerie of badly trained beasts that seem magnetically drawn into camera shot – and that’s just the children.
As for barking dogs, don’t get me started. Suffice to say that, not long ago, if someone had asked me: “Is it alright to bring my Alsation to the meeting as we can’t leave him at home because of his incessant barking”, my answer wouldn’t have had many syllables.
And what about the lottery of the signal? There’s nothing worse than to have given two minutes of your finest oratory, only for the chairman to stare blankly into the screen replying: “Sorry, but you froze just as you said ‘my key point is…’”
Then there is the flushed, over-refreshed demeanour of some for whom you suspect the proximity of the drinks cupboard to their home workspace has done them no favours. That benign-looking coffee cup on their desk can be hiding a multitude of sins.
As for those who have their laptops set up in their bedroom… When they switch their camera to blank mode you can’t help but suspect they aren’t actually still at their desk, but have just popped into the “en-suite”.
Your suspicions are confirmed when it becomes horribly evident that, while they have switched the camera off, they left the mic on.
To be honest, I do fully appreciate that there are clear advantages to bringing people together for a conflab online rather than lugging them over vast distances, but I’ll leave those points to young Evans.
I’m sure he’ll convince you there’s no form of social interaction that can’t be achieved remotely.
My response to that is that he has four delightful daughters who I very much doubt were the product of a Zoom or Teams meeting.
Read more from Guy Smith
Back in the 1980s, when my esteemed friend above wasn’t cruising around Essex, blasting out the latest Spandau Ballet single in his beige Ford Cortina, the only way that he had to tell random strangers that his farm is the driest in the country was either face to face, or via a contraption plugged into living room walls, known simply as a “telephone”.
In late 2020, we can only speculate on how this plucky generation survived those Spartan times.
See also: How to make the most of social media to promote farming
What happened if you needed to get hold of somebody urgently? Were you just supposed to wait until they eventually called back three days later on this telephone thing? Unthinkable.
And how did they manage without hundreds of vitally important emails to reply to every day? The mind boggles.
But most of all, how on earth did they cope without social media in their lives? Frankly, one can only marvel at the hardships these poor impoverished souls faced. Imagine not updating your followers on what you’re doing on an hourly basis, or being unable to share photos of tonight’s dinner.
Even worse, how about not vehemently arguing with people you’ve never met about complex subjects that neither of you are even close to being expert in, such as international trade deals, epidemiology, or whether ploughing a field or murdering someone is the worse offence?
How did they instantly find out what was happening in the wider world, or the gossip from the latest reality TV show? And no tractor selfies either? No thank you!
I’m also tempted to ask how they held meetings, webinars and conferences back in those days, but after studying grainy archive footage of the time on YouTube, I’m something of an expert now. It seems that they drove (yes, you read that correctly), actually drove to places known as “venues”, if you can believe it.
Imagine getting dressed up in formal clothes to head out and leisurely burn several litres of fossil fuel with all its catastrophic effects on the climate and our precious children’s futures, to go and listen to some insufferable old bore ask a five-minute-long question that’s entirely irrelevant to the presentation that’s just taken place; not to mention being subjected to the absolute horror of having to make small talk afterwards.
And don’t get me started on being in dangerously close proximity to one another and the shocking lack of PPE. I even watched one video where participants not only indulged in an arcane ritual known as “shaking hands” on arrival, they didn’t even immediately disinfect afterwards. The thought of it alone is enough to put me off my Netflix fix.
Yes, I’ll take my meetings and social interaction in the comfort of my own home with a convenient mute button, the option to turn off the camera if I’m not feeling particularly instagrammable that day, and the opportunity to surreptitiously scroll through Twitter chatting to friends in the same echo chamber as me when no one’s looking.
And if my exceptionally well-behaved daughters or Jack Russell terrier make an appearance, then so much the better.
Read more from Will Evans