If you’re anything like me, your idea of a party involves turning up towards midnight, already half-cut, eager to dance, joke and drink with the friends you like and to make a couple more as the night plays out, bonding (usually) over some mutual experience that alcohol led you to together. What a party doesn’t involve – at least, not a good one – is inescapably dry conversation, lots of waiting around and mandatory-participation in organised fun, of any kind.
But while lockdown keeps us from snogging strangers in nightclubs and huddling in the galley kitchens of friends’ houses and we’re forced to find other ways to socialise, celebrate birthdays and stave off cabin-fever, Zoom chats have become the widely endorsed, catch-all solution. And honestly, they suck.
For those who like to turn up when there’s already an atmosphere, it’s frustrating to be held so rigidly to a start time. Arguably, though, it’s worse for the punctual. Being among the first to enter the room requires chit-chatting with whoever else actually set their calendar reminder, which might be a stranger (depending on the size of the Zoom) or worse yet, someone you ghosted several years ago. ‘Oh heeeyyy, yes I did briefly die in 2015, but good news! I’ve made a full recovery!’
Read the Room
Small talk probably isn’t anyone’s favourite pastime, but some people are better at it than others, steering the conversation effortlessly between mutually acceptable subjects, appropriate queries and, equally, appropriate silence to let other people speak.
I’m laughably bad at it – likely to ask exactly the wrong question, refer unthinkingly to the elephant in the room or overshare to fill conversational lulls. The merits of a regular party include being able to do this in small groups, limiting the damage. On Zoom, with single microphone priority, someone’s bound to give an entire webinar on the excruciating dissolution of their marriage.
Haha, yes very good Sandra, you’ve superimposed yourself onto a Starship Enterprise cockpit, SUCH fun. Amusing the first time someone’s boss was unable to turn off the potato filter in a meeting, tedious by the time your auntie figures out how to do it a month behind everyone else.
The Dreaded Quiz
Before lockdown, I’d filed quizzes away in the back of my mind along with trust falls, family rounders matches, Never Have I Ever and karaoke. Everyone knows the best bit of organised fun is when it’s over and you can peel off in groups at the pub, to laugh at how awkward it all was and who made the biggest mockery of themselves.
Zoom quizzes list, among their many crimes, holding you captive to the self-appointed Quiz Master’s desire to demonstrate their own detailed knowledge of 1970s prog-rock, mind-numbing gaps as you wait for someone to come back from the loo and, at the risk of sounding like an alcoholic here, the deeply disappointing lack of a ‘free bar tab’ prize as incentive to bother.
The Exit Strategy
I’m a huge fan of slinking off into the night. Ideally, just after the party (or after-party) has peaked. Doing the round of goodbyes is just another opportunity to get locked into bumbling promises of plans that will never happen and pleasantries you only half mean. And - avoidant of too much physical contact at the best of times – the parting hugs and kisses can also get in the bin.
But Zoom offers little-to-no opportunity for the Irish exit. You’re belted in until the ride comes to a complete stop. Which could be hours after you’d rather be alone with your nightcap and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. If you’re brave enough to call time before the scheduled end, you’ve got to do so by interrupting everyone and announcing to the room that you’ve got to the point where you’d really rather be doing anything else. But, of course, it’s been such a lovely 210 minute chat and you’re brimming with excitement to do it all again, same time next Thursday?
I’m being facetious, of course. I know what it’s like to be lonely. I call my Granny every week to keep her from the silence of her own company. And while social distancing measures remain in place, Zoom is as good a means as any for staying in touch. But 67 ‘Guess the film from the emojis’ quizzes later, I think I’d rather just read a book…
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