What you get to see on Zoom

Ye Gods, when will this year end was the question most often on the lips of The Man from Madras Musings until he read that the current pandemic is all set to extend well into the next year. And so, MMM has recalibrated and would like to know when 2021 will end as well. In the meanwhile, it is best to think happy thoughts, spread cheer and above all stay away from news updates regarding the virus and also shun pronouncements from the WHO (Woebegone Health Organisation). There is one man from there with a perpetually pained expression and a long name comprising four separate words that MMM particularly avoids. He (of that name 1 name 2 name 3 name 4 fame) makes the most negative statements. 

In the meanwhile, MMM is rather fatigued at this point, what with his having had more than his share of Zoom meetings for Madras Week. MM was not part of the festivities, the old magazine having rather sensibly taken the stance that it would prefer to wait for better times, after all Chennai and Madras Musings are not going anywhere and will be around for better Madras Weeks to come. But that did not prevent some from sending private messages to MMM stating that they understood but were deeply disappointed, whatever that means.

They presumably wanted MM to conduct events online. Of course, some may have been deeply disappointed that the snacks and tea/coffee that was freely distributed in earlier Madras Weeks will not be forthcoming this year unless of course the magazine was considering doing a dunzo to all attendees. But these are tough times and MM does not aim to throw cash on such lavish acts.

The magazine may have stayed away but not so MMM, who spoke at this forum and that, not to forget that one, this one and the one over there in that yonder corner. All of these were addresses over Zoom, Google Meet, Webex and other such online tools, which have proliferated rather like the virus itself. MMM came away from most feeling completely exhausted and rather bemused as well, apart from being amused at times. 

Firstly, there is the matter of the audience. MMM is of the kind that thrives under certain ideal conditions – and in this the first requisite is a live audience. The webinar audience is not exactly dead, but it may well be. Most meetings these days demand that the audio and video of the listeners be turned off, which mind you is not entirely a bad thing- too often you have men in vests listening in and to make matters worse, they scratch themselves as well. MMM also had a memorable meeting where two women attendees, lounged on bed, in negligees. The horror of the whole thing put MMM off his speech for quite a while. But the alternative, namely the blocking off of all screens is not so good either for MMM has the feeling that he is soliloquizing, like some character out of Shakespeare. There is no way of ascertaining if a punchline got across or if a joke was appreciated. 

Secondly, there is the matter of technology. Bandwidth being what it is, what we actually get being a fraction of what was promised in the contract, showing videos or playing audios over these online meeting platforms is iffy at best. This was amply borne out around Independence Day when MMM had to speak on songs of freedom from our city. MMM thought he had delivered, with some live singing and more importantly some great recordings. Those who attended duly applauded at the end and some said it was wonderful. 

MMM preened like a peacock, until an old man sent in an email where he said he wished the quality of the audio had been better. That set MMM off and he asked the host for a recording of the talk. On playing it, he found that his speech was clear and so was his singing but the audio recordings had all played out like a sledgehammer being operated. The exact equivalent would be something like digadogdugadigdigdogdougdigdingdong and so on. And yet not a single attendee had mentioned this during the talk. It transpired that they could not have, even if they had wanted to, for their audio and videos had been turned off. These two aspects kind of complete MMM’s case against these online tools but there is one major aspect to follow, on which he will elaborate in his next epistle.