Zooming into the Houseparty - Debbie Bennett
I’m one of the lucky ones. I can work from home with relative ease. Now that Clare lives elsewhere, you’d think that being child-free would be easy, but unfortunately I’m not husband-free – and with us both working from home, we generally operate on schedules that appear to be light-years apart. I’ll be in the middle of something, at my desk in the dining room, and he’ll come in and switch the tv on in the lounge while he eats his breakfast. Since we moved, I no longer have the luxury of my own space, so I’m getting used to television-plus-husband’s-opinion in the background.
But I can work from home. And I can work in the office too. It’s a short drive and not particularly crowded as yet, with alternate desks marked as not to be used and signs and stickers on every surface including the floor – much like the High Street is right now with the pavement littered with round circles as if we can’t work out for ourselves where to stand. It’s all such a mess out there, isn’t it? I go into work once a week or so as I like the interaction with people.
Working from home involves copious amounts of Skyping. By the end of Week One post-corona, everybody had switched off video for meetings – ostensibly to save bandwidth, but in reality to avoid having to get dressed before lunchtime. I can cope with Skype meetings, but it’s the phone calls that get me, when my laptop starts ringing all by itself and I hit reply and suddenly I’m live on somebody else’s screen and I’m looking down and hoping I remembered to put a bra on that morning. I’m really going to have to have a look at the default settings for Skype.
My local writers group is currently running their monthly meetings online. This started out because the chairman was stuck in Cyprus for several months and unable to get home, but it’s turned out to be a way for everybody to stay connected and monthly meetings are still Zoomed. Except for me. I can’t do a meeting with 20+ people in a virtual room online. For me, a meeting is about being able to see everybody at once – to listen to a conversation that flows naturally. Online meetings seem to stilted to me without the benefits of physical presence, without the ability to chat with the person next to you in the break, to hand round a copy of an anthology you have a story in, or some leaflets you picked up. Zoom meetings just don’t do it for me. And so I don’t. And I miss that interaction.
Houseparty is different. Despite the initial negative press, this was easy to set up on my phone and laptop and a good way to hang out with my girlfriends on a Friday night with a glass of wine in the early weeks of lockdown. Smaller numbers make it work better I think and the screen simply splits to as many/few people as it needs to. And I can happily chat to my daughter on Facebook Messenger video, so 1:1 is definitely better.
But overall, I say no. Virtual space isn’t me. It’s too easy to get distracted by other stuff and very hard to commit 100% attention online. I am happy with my own company and being home alone doesn’t bother me (although I haven’t had to do it for weeks on end), but I do like to see people in the flesh. Clearly, body language is important to me, if only subconsciously, as I find it hard to connect to an image on a screen in any meaningful way.
I’d be rubbish at being a solitary writer/artist starving in a garret, wouldn’t I?