So a thought occurred to me, during a recent webcast call with some colleagues from work. The platform doesn’t matter; we’ll call it Zoom for the moment, though for the record that is actually the one platform I am not allowed to use at work.
What happened was this: I was the only one on the call who had their video on. Now, in at least one case I happen to know that the person is pathologically shy. In another case, I happen to know that the computer they are using doesn’t actually have a camera. But honestly, the excuses don’t matter. What matters is that for approximately 60 minutes I found myself “conversing” with two disembodied voices and a slightly off-centered version of myself against a backdrop of the kind of white Scandinavian upholstery complete with rattan ottoman topped by white porcelain pottery and brushed aluminum bowls, backing onto a floor-to-ceiling picture window that looks out onto a parklike setting of elms and clipped lawn that can only appear in either (a) a very high-priced analyst’s office in, say, Darien, or (b) somebody’s fever dream of the work-at-home office of the wife of an haut bourgeois.
Which is to say, I was talking to myself. Only myself looking off to stage left mostly. While every so often the voices of two other people came into consciousness. This is not a “meeting.” This is not “conversation.” It is not “connection.” It’s not even, at the end of the day, a reasonable facsimile of “reality.” At best it approximates most laypeople’s understanding of what it’s like to suffer from schizophrenia.
Now let’s consider the one kind of situation that’s even worse: namely, when there is someone else participating with their video feed “on.” In that situation, you can never under actually look someone in the eye. No matter where you look — and frankly, the temptation is always to look at one’s own screen, human vanity being what it is — the other person is always looking somewhere else. And let’s say, just for a moment, that you do “catch” their eye. How do you know, really, that what they’re seeing is you looking them in the eye? How do you know, really, that they think they’re looking you in the eye?