5 minutes reading time (1081 words)

When Zoom is doom

'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-gloomlow mood after Zoom events
  • Zoomophobiafear of Zoom events
  • Inzoomnialack of sleep after too much zooming
  • Zoomo sapiensnew species of virtual human
  • Zoom-tombdeadly boring Zoom event
  • Zoom-exhumepost-Zoom analysis
  • Zoom-grooming (don't ask)
  • Zoombaa virtual dance
  • Zoom-Vrrrroomthe energy boost from an inspiring online event 
  • Rule of Zoomrough estimate of length of Zoom event
  • Nom de Zoomability to change one's name at Zoom event
  • Back to the Zomb Therapya new birthing technique
  • Bride and Zoomvirtual weddings
  • Zoominatingreflecting during a Zoom event; alternatively: eating grass during a Zoom event
  • Superzooman—Zoom participant with special powers

THE LOST LAST POEM
What C-19 is doing to poetry publishing
 

Comments 5

Guest - Brigid Sivill on Sunday, 17 May 2020 21:37

For those of us who are disabled or live in remote areas or are just poor I think that the current virtual meetings, films and launches are brilliant! I have felt more included in the poetry world in the last few weeks than for a long time. I don't think they can possibly match the live event but for many of us live is not possible anyway. It would be intersting to see if there is a new develpoment and more things are accessible virtually when they are also being delivered live. Thanks as always for your intersting blog.

For those of us who are disabled or live in remote areas or are just poor I think that the current virtual meetings, films and launches are brilliant! I have felt more included in the poetry world in the last few weeks than for a long time. I don't think they can possibly match the live event but for many of us live is not possible anyway. It would be intersting to see if there is a new develpoment and more things are accessible virtually when they are also being delivered live. Thanks as always for your intersting blog.
Helena Nelson on Sunday, 17 May 2020 21:47

You are absolutely right, Brigid, the virtual activity is wonderful when you can't get to the live event anyway. I think such events don't need to match the live event, but can do their own thing, of which you are a part. I do think in future, online events will complement live ones. We won't go back to either/or. Thanks for your comments. They are spot on.

You are absolutely right, Brigid, the virtual activity is wonderful when you can't get to the live event anyway. I think such events don't need to match the live event, but can do their own thing, of which you are a part. I do think in future, online events will complement live ones. We won't go back to either/or. Thanks for your comments. They are spot on.
Guest - Davina on Monday, 25 May 2020 11:34

Brigid, I agree. It's never been easy to travel across country to readings and events for all sorts of reasons — and, to be honest, past events themselves have sometimes been a disappointment. While nothing will quite match attending in person and perhaps talking to the poet there are all sorts of ways to increase the energy of an on-screen event, perhaps by 'attending' with a friend, or having a phone call afterwards. We're all learning how to get the most out of new ways of working.

Brigid, I agree. It's never been easy to travel across country to readings and events for all sorts of reasons — and, to be honest, past events themselves have sometimes been a disappointment. While nothing will quite match attending in person and perhaps talking to the poet there are all sorts of ways to increase the energy of an on-screen event, perhaps by 'attending' with a friend, or having a phone call afterwards. We're all learning how to get the most out of new ways of working.
Pamela Christine Gormally on Thursday, 18 June 2020 12:56

I so enjoyed reading this! Laughed out loud. I did enjoy the workshop you led with Annie FIsher and gained a lot from it - just the right pace.
And yes going online does make events or workshops more accessible so expect this will continue Brigid, and often easier to focus in our own homes? However I so miss the live contact!
Now going to invent more zoom phrases - it certainly can be exasperating at times...

I so enjoyed reading this! Laughed out loud. I did enjoy the workshop you led with Annie FIsher and gained a lot from it - just the right pace. And yes going online does make events or workshops more accessible so expect this will continue Brigid, and often easier to focus in our own homes? However I so miss the live contact! Now going to invent more zoom phrases - it certainly can be exasperating at times...
Anthony Bicat on Friday, 26 June 2020 10:04

Just finished doing my usual NFTS Screenwriting workshop on Zoom - I can endorse all of the above. Even with largely tech-savvy 3o year olds. Stretched 6 days over 10 mornings because of concentration problem. Had to be very succinct - no room to waffle (be discursive!) Lot of work getting paper handouts into Drop Box to be accessed daily. Dedicated Email for homework etc. Class missed coffee break bonding, I the nuances of physical body language etc. Pluses -Access - One student in Puerto Rico doing the course at Night!

Just finished doing my usual NFTS Screenwriting workshop on Zoom - I can endorse all of the above. Even with largely tech-savvy 3o year olds. Stretched 6 days over 10 mornings because of concentration problem. Had to be very succinct - no room to waffle (be discursive!) Lot of work getting paper handouts into Drop Box to be accessed daily. Dedicated Email for homework etc. Class missed coffee break bonding, I the nuances of physical body language etc. Pluses -Access - One student in Puerto Rico doing the course at Night!
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Wednesday, 02 December 2020

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