'She left the web, she left the zoom' ('The Lady of Shalott')
For poets inhabiting the online world, all sorts of virtual spaces (and opportunities) are springing up. Most publishers (I am no exception) are delivering online events to help promote books. We learn as we go.
People are using many different platforms. Zoom ('In this together. Keeping you securely connected wherever you are') has the most memorable name, and I think it might yet get into the dictionary, like hoover did – when a brand became the generic term. Wouldn't that please the Zoom people?
But all sorts of other platforms are on the go, with their various not very inspiring catchphrases. For example:
- ClickMeeting ('We help you stay connected' — unambitious but at least short)
- Zoho ('Your Life's Work Powered By Our Life's Work' — what's with the capital letters?)
- Webex ('Webex is here when the world needs to connect, communicate and collaborate' —not a catchphrase, practically a paragraph!)
- GotoMeeting ('WE'RE HERE TO HELP' — please stop shouting)
- Microsoft Teams ('Nothing can stop a team'—oh YES it can!)
- Periscope live streaming (developed by Twitter: 'See what the world is seeing' — ho-hum)
But yes, Zoom ('In this together. Keeping you securely connected wherever you are') is the best name, though limp catchphrase. And in the UK, at least, Zoom seems to be the most popular right now, at least for ordinary people as opposed to giant organisations, whose employees use the one they're told to use (which is frequently one they don't like).
All but one of the poetry events I've attended online recently have been Zoom affairs. I spent time exploring both GotoMeeting (and GotoWebinar) and Webex, but it seemed to me Zoom was easiest to use. Also it has the advantage of being the one I'm getting most used to.
Not that I like everything about it, by any means. And there are many things I don't understand. For example, having read carefully about headsets, I don't understand why the sound quality I get through mine is worse than my Imac's own microphone. Okay, so one of the headsets was cheap but the other was £25.00 and I thought it might have something to offer. Nope.
I have learned quite a bit about things that go wrong.
Like that sometimes my computer's camera stops working, and I have to restart the whole shebang.
Like that when I select 'record automatically' in Zoom settings, it doesn't record automatically.
Like that Zoom is unhappy about screen-share when the document shared is set to 'full screen', though sometimes it's ok.
Like that sometimes nothing works right, and it is not the user's fault. Sundays may be bad days.
Today, for example, the Zoom website status indicated that all sorts of things weren't working. 'Our team is continuing to investigate this issue.' I can bear witness to the fact that there most certainly was an issue.
When its good, it's very very good. When it stops working, Zoom is doom.
But for any virtual conferencing technology, watching poets' faces while they read poems, with variable sound quality, is a mixed blessing. Some events share the poem-text at the same time, though. That adds a little something that you don't usually get at a live reading.
Zoom events where attendees can use public chat are ... risky. Sometimes the contributions are, let's say, less than tasteful. And when chat comments pop up in the middle of a reading, it's distracting. Terribly tempting, too, to send a sarky message about the presenter to a friend (a bit like whispering during a poetry reading). Just wait till you find you've sent it publicly by accident.
It's distracting too, when some of the attendees visible in video windows are eating lunch or (as in one recent instance) applying moisturiser.
Having been to live open mic events where the poets left one by one after they had delivered their two minutes-worth, I suspect precisely the same happens online. A bit like Pass the Parcel, except the final one to unwrap the paper is entirely on their own.
Some attendees turn their video off so they can continue to listen while making dinner, without anybody seeing what they're doing. This is actually quite sensible, though maybe not ideal at a poetry event, when you're secretly hoping people might be concentrating.
But maybe the key issue for any of us at online events is motivation. We sign up because we think it might be interesting. But after the novelty of the first few has worn off, what's in it for us? When you go to a live poetry reading, you know you're going to see some friends, probably have a convivial drink and an outing. But on the web?
From a publisher-host's point of view, one reason for zooming is to sell books. So one could argue, that from the attendee's point of view, a reason for going is to find out whether or not you'd want a copy. Is that enough to offset Zoom-fatigue? What else can online events offer attendees?
I don't think it works to transfer the content of a typical poetry reading into an online event. It's a different medium and something different needs to happen. If it's a live event, it might include some conversation, some insights, a bit of background on the book, a bit of enjoyable gossip. There may be aspects of audience interaction too that would draw people in and make them feel involved. Something to be learned that you can't get any other way – that's what I most like in an online event. I like to leave the meeting feeling I know something I didn't know when I went in.
That's if the technology works!
Essential Zoom terms
- Zoom-gloom—low mood after Zoom events
- Zoomophobia—fear of Zoom events
- Inzoomnia—lack of sleep after too much zooming
- Zoomo sapiens—new species of virtual human
- Zoom-tomb—deadly boring Zoom event
- Zoom-exhume—post-Zoom analysis
- Zoom-grooming (don't ask)
- Zoomba—a virtual dance
- Zoom-Vrrrroom—the energy boost from an inspiring online event
- Rule of Zoom—rough estimate of length of Zoom event
- Nom de Zoom—ability to change one's name at Zoom event
- Back to the Zomb Therapy—a new birthing technique
- Bride and Zoom—virtual weddings
- Zoominating—reflecting during a Zoom event; alternatively: eating grass during a Zoom event
- Superzooman—Zoom participant with special powers