Oh dear! Where shall I begin? At the beginning, I suppose. For some reason, my answer reminds me of something that Winnie-the-Pooh would say in all of his honey-glazed wisdom. Yes indeed, the Hundred-Acre Woods is home to many quote-worthy, relatable characters. More notably, as of late especially, I am envious of the simple adventures and innocent misadventures in the Woods. Wouldn’t life be grand if getting our bellies stuck in the holes of our homes was the extent of our daily challenges? Sure, it would be uncomfortable, but a little honey rub or back-end boost (or both!) from friends would surely do the trick of freeing us up. Come to think of it, maybe we ought to try to solve some of our modern-day issues with similar remedies? Maybe we are making things more complicated than they need be as we mere humans have a habit of doing. That being said, we might not have a small choosing of vaccines on the pandemic scene if we stuck to honey bees and birthday parties with balloons for us to float up and away on. Just the same, Christopher Robbin and friends certainly give pause for thought, don’t they?
For a good many of us westerners, working from home has been a mainstay since last spring. In recent lockdown efforts, even more people have been ordered to work from home where workplace presence is not required. As an essential, in-person worker, I haven’t been directly affected by the orders except that I have been required to isolate twice recently leaving me in a position of online work along with everyone else. Being online is a relatively new endeavour to me since I was on a medical leave until this past fall. Needless to say, during my time off, Zoom, Teams, Meet and Skype exploded in their use as people aimed to stay connected in both their professional and personal lives. While I had been privy to our newly boxed-up world as I had watched the entertainment community scramble to make the most of whichever platforms they could, I hadn’t actually participated in a live Meet until June. Even then, I was never the presenter—just an attendee. There were enough little things to figure out at that, let alone trying to host such an event a few times daily in an effective, efficient manner.
I refer to our present lives as boxed-up because, well, you know…. video chats mean that everyone lives in a square similar to the Laugh-In or Hollywood Squares sets, add in microphone and Webcam icons aplenty. “Click to join”, “Unmute yourself so we can hear you”, “Turn on your camera”, “Enable your grid view”, “Add your comments to the thread” have all become the backbone sayings of our newly compartmentalized existence. While it is true that most of us, especially businesses, would be lost without these virtual meeting places, I personally am getting tired of seeing the countless, four-walled outlines with people in them. We weren’t meant to live in boxes. It just doesn’t seem right. Then again, how often have I heard the saying, “Think outside of the box”, so maybe we have been residing in them all along and I’ve only now awoken to it. Either way, online venues are good in that we can have everyone at our fingertips, but are they really? I say, yes and no.
While a person’s virtual presence can be seen and heard, the feeling is what’s different. It’s as if they are muted in more ways than one for a good chunk of the ‘Meet’. It is hard to get a true sense of their personality, especially if we’re meeting them for the first time. For those we already know, they tend to be reflected in a different light. Add in lag time of disjointed, garbled sound bites and squared images which turn into circles of initials or avatars when bandwidth reaches its max and it’s enough to make you want to scream really. No wonder screen time has been a societal issue for awhile now. Granted, conferencing is different than gaming. Nonetheless, staring at boxes and blue space for hours on end surely cannot be good for us socially or emotionally ne’er mind all of the sitting, eye/neck strain as well as the array of shoulder, arm and wrist pains from ‘mousing’. The latter could be more of a middle-age dilemma, although I do recall hearing of more recent studies citing that younger folks are now dealing with similar physical ailments because of the very issue at hand.
Living in a rural area as we do adds to the frustration since surfing/Netflix is iffy at the best of times, let alone trying to get video and audio to support twenty to thirty individuals on the internet simultaneously. Worst of all, neither my husband nor I know much about troubleshooting when things go wrong which inevitably they do. That’s where a child or teen gamer would come in handy as surely they would know what to do. In fact, much of my rather steep learning curve has been aided by the young ones that I work with. How they acquire such knowledge so effortlessly is beyond me! I used to have a pretty good working memory when I was younger, but the ins and outs of technology is a whole other kettle of fish. I laugh aloud at that saying as my little ones would have no clue what that means (actually, I’m not even sure that I do), yet they can navigate just about everything and anything virtual. And social media?! Well, that’s a global language that they have not only helped to invent, but normalize. Think of all of the acronyms and word shortcuts our everyday world has adopted as a result. The irony is that old-time shorthand/stenography recently featured on Tik-Tok is apparently making a comeback likely on the heels of today’s LOL’s which have helped to revive it separate from its infamous use in courtrooms.
Bottom line? I am grateful that virtual spaces allow for us to stay connected in some fashion and even work from home if necessary, which will likely become more the norm in cost-saving, but I CANNOT wait for the day when I can see others’ faces without square outlines or masked coverings. Of all of the things that I have wished for and/or wanted in my life, I somehow never thought that that request would be at the top of my list. People’s real-life smiles have been something that I’ve just always taken for granted. Sadly, that’s no longer the case. When virus times are behind us, however that will look, I will happily watch reruns of Laugh-In or Hollywood Squares to get in my fill of boxed-up living if I should feel the need. Not likely.