Tee’s Review: It amazes me every day, the energy we spend attempting to replace the all-important human need for close physical contact with others during this plague.
I had a strange vision, a nightmare, that there was a hole in my stomach into which I could insert a portable external drive enabling my brain to download old episodes of The Bob Newhart show that I could watch whenever I wanted. Wait, that wasn’t me. It was James Woods in Videodrome (Universal Pictures, 1983). Why am I suffering these odd hallucinations and worrying about mind-control conspiracies? Have there been any big changes in my life which might bring on such wild fantasies and seductive thoughts? Maybe it’s the pandemic.
I may be suffering from ESVS or Excessive Screen Viewing Syndrome, which affects millions of people each year. Typical symptoms include (but are not limited to) red-rimmed eyes, vacant stare, palm frozen to forehead, frequent checking of the internet connection, forgetting where the bathroom is and (age-related) constantly texting one’s children for tech advice.
Its current resurgence is particularly virulent in the older population, who have historically limited their screen-time to watching reruns of M.A.S.H. and engaging in Facetime calls with the grandkids in another state. There’s been a major uptick in online socializing among my peers. What with participating in three ZOOM calls a day, along with my writing/researching/goofing around time on the computer, numerous visits to entertaining websites and binge-worthy Roku selections, I am trapped in a web of seductive, mind-sucking drama of my own making. I do love a good drama!
Let’s talk about ZOOM (aka virtual meeting). I hear your collective sigh. We all suffer from the double-think related to online socializing. We love it. We hate it. We have lost control. Unlike John Hurt in 1984 (Virgin Films, 1984) we are not being subjected to “the worst thing in the world.” Not even close. We don’t actually fear the interaction on ZOOM so much as feel overwhelmed by it. Sitting in one place listening to people speak over one another and then repeating that process morning, noon and night depletes some of our vital energy. We feel wilted instead of the experience we sought—joyful interaction. Fewer people in the Gallery View on ZOOM creates a relaxed and more conversational atmosphere.
Just getting onto a ZOOM meeting is fraught with peril. At a recent meeting of my writers’ group, some people could not get on, I got knocked off and, after 20 minutes of attempts and failures, we had to start over with a new meeting. Anne, one of our clever members, labeled this fiasco a ZOOMboggle. You who ZOOM will now have the privilege of putting a name to the woeful collection of mishaps and struggles that surround a virtual meeting whatever your preferred platform.
It’s inevitable that as I start an online group meeting, my dog Mindy will wake from a peaceful nap on the couch to bark at a chipmunk in the front yard or launch an all-out barking, howling, indignant assault on our front windows aimed at another of her species daring to pass our house. I have learned how to use the MUTE feature. I have not learned how to stop my dog from creating a frenzy. Planning for pet containment is one of my new ZOOM skills, deployed before my online tai chi class or other meetings with people outside my family or close social circle.
I confess I have been guilty of other online gaffs such as speaking to someone lurking just off-screen or simply getting up and walking off to tend to mysterious tasks. Virtual meetings require a level of intense focus that sometimes eludes me. I am generally charmed when someone else has to remove a cat from in front of their screen or yells at their kids for loudly crashing the scene. It reminds me that we are all humans and have a rich life, full of activity and people beyond that stretch of wall or carefully selected background we show on our screens.
It seems every day of this pandemic, I am dragged into the black hole that is the internet, lured by a seemingly endless smorgasbord of entertaining possibilities. So, in addition to my usual hours of ZOOM-ing, writing, researching, and teaching my online tai chi class, I have had to do some shopping. Though some people enjoy this form of retail therapy, I am traumatized by the sheer vastness of the shopping universe and the hours one must spend to navigate this quagmire of commerce.
My ongoing shopping revolves around the approaching holidays, redecorating my house (yes, still at it), looking for new products in a quest to reduce our use of plastic and this month only, a new refrigerator and basement freezer. That’s more shopping in the past two weeks than I usually do all year. This translates into hours on the computer. My compulsion is to get it all done! As soon as possible. I have to spend hours looking at websites and narrowing down my selections, which eats up a lot of my time and bathes me in a ghostly, electronic glow until I feel I am being sucked into another dimension within my computer.
I can break away from it only to find myself seduced into the concert scene. So many concerts online. And we don’t even have to drive to a bar, looking for expensive or nonexistent Asheville parking or pay for beer! There’s a brewery in our basement. Or, if you desire to learn, you can find an online lecture on home brewing or dog training or quilting. There are virtual classes at universities (UNC has OLLI – college for seniors) and folk arts centers streaming through Facebook and even chefs, willing to impart their culinary knowledge from the confines of their restaurants into your own living room, offering digital demonstrations. We live in an age where we are able to safely transfer knowledge without transferring disease. Human ingenuity meets human need for connection.
Then there are virtual tours. Admittedly, I hate these. It sounds exciting to be able to see a place I’ve never been. Rome, Paris, Graceland, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yosemite National Park. You might be finding yourself drawn into a famous museum full of revered artwork, adding to your screen time and contributing to your own ESVS. The local art museum is now open and I’d rather don a mask and hit it up during the week when tourism is off-season and I am one of ten people there admiring the work of local artists. Virtual tours bore the pants off me. And since pants-less-ness is now in vogue (until you forget and stand up in full view of everyone on your ZOOM screen), I’d rather take in an exciting movie from the comfort of my own couch than tour a stuffy old museum.
I love story telling through movies. New movies, old movies, sci-fi movies, drama, intrigue, rom-com and human- interest documentaries. Netflix is the most rewarding $16 per month we spend right now. In addition to streaming, we have DVD rental, which means we can watch just about any movie we want to see. That’s not to say that Hulu, HBO, Amazon and other services don’t have their fair share of binge-worthy offerings. Through the magic of a website, I can make a 1940’s musical appear in my mailbox! I feel most fortunate in a time when access to movie theaters is nonexistent and Blockbuster has gone the way of the dinosaur.
So, with all this screen time, do you think Big Brother is watching? I find it unnerving when, after a search for the name of a movie through a Google search, I start getting ads on my Facebook page for Peacock or Amazon. Is it only a matter of time before the Thought Police come to take me to my online confession? I freely give it now. I love stories with dystopian themes. George Orwell and Margaret Atwood are my heroes. It’s not that I think the future is bleak, I think it is unknown, which is always a bit scary. I can promise you, if food becomes scarce, I won’t eat my dog. Only because she will have already made a feast of me. The Road and I am Legend, along with many other favorite movies end with a note of hope for humanity. That’s all I need. Until it is safe for me to kiss you on the forehead, I’ll have to settle for muting my audio and hoping my brain is safe from an unwanted take-over.
Long live the new flesh,
Guest Editor Tee and I have been on so many ZOOM calls together we feel like roommates! Transition is the theme for 2020 and for changing topics of thought in one’s writing.