Feel isolated? Miss a social life? Of course, you do even if you’re an introvert or recluse. We all crave human interaction, and preferably face-to-face. We can’t now in most cases, so Zoom has become the new schmooze and a venue in this era of social distancing for connecting. In fact, people who used to get competitive about the number of dates, parties or happy hours they were invited to are now bragging about all their Zoom meetings.
When the pandemic hit and stay at home was ordered for New York state, our shared territory, we knew as WFH (work from home) regulars we would be OK. We were used to it and each planned to continue to get lots of work done--which we are, talk on the phone to friends, family and work sources, email and text. However, this time we almost never or rarely go out. Margaret might take a walk and once went to the grocery store at 6:30 a.m. for its senior hour. Barbara is staying put and only goes outside to check out her garden and pick up branches and limbs. There is a plus to all this isolation. No one can see our emerging gray roots, zero make up, torn comfortable sweats and PJs or worry-wrinkle lines. It’s freeing, until…
…the phenomenon and popularity of the Zoom meeting gained traction and spread, yes, like the virus. If TV hosts were interviewing experts from the confines of their homes and showing their neatly arranged bookshelves and swank furnishings and doctors were conducting patient visits online, why couldn’t we use it for social purposes? Well, we are and are finding that we’ve booked so many weekly Zoom meetings that we must regularly check our calendars to be sure there’s no scheduling conflict.
Here’s what life has looked like in this new arena of socialization. These sessions for both of us started with our kids who reminded us that we’re old and ordered us to stay put. “Absolutely no visits to the post office, any store or any restaurant,” they said.
For Barbara it started with a Zoom with her two daughters who wanted to be sure their officially declared “old” mom was socially distancing. And then there was a Zoom Seder for the Pesach holiday with family and friends in six locations in three states. Her son-in-law ran his usual orderly, informative and fun Seder, Her older grandson chanted the four questions in Hebrew, which was what everybody was waiting for, until a friend of Barbara’s literally popped in to join, almost like Elijah showing up, but without the threat of contaminating anyone.
And then it was on to a surprise Zoom schmooze with a childhood friend. Together, they said why not add on and gathered more gal-pals from their childhood years. Their goal was to be inclusive, expand the circle, rather than cliquish like in high school. At the same time, they didn’t want the group to get unwieldy with everyone talking at the same time or unable to switch frames and see everyone.
That gathering led to yet another Zoom meeting but a coed version of their friends from their kindergarten-through-eighth grade school, which had remained a tight-knit group through the years. Barbara’s next Zoom was with a handful of classmates from a religious class she had taken over the last 21/2 years. She was really getting into this and perfecting hiding her daily outfit of pjs.
Margaret’s kids who call once a week, started calling and texting daily. “Mom, are you wearing a mask and gloves? Are you feeling okay? Are you really feeling okay?” Margaret felt as if she were living again in the time after her husband died and everyone she knew was again asking this question constantly. But better the kids should see her rather than worry. So, Margaret and her kids scheduled regular Zoom gigs on Saturday nights, which would have been her date night. Since her children are wine aficionados, each week there’s a wine theme. First was Southern Rhones, then Cabernet Franc and lastly, Margaret’s fave, sparkling wines.
Shortly after, two different sets of girlfriends (soon to be three sets) came Zooming (it’s already become a verb in our new pandemic lexicon). We each sit before our screens downing our favorite beverage and drowning out as much chatter as possible about the virus. Margaret, who complains at least once a day that she hates technology, has changed her tune. In this age of the pandemic, technology has been a boon and become a best friend.
We both are finding this fun and addictive and began to wonder whom we could Zoom with next. Could we Zoom with people we’ve met at the bus stop or subway, shopkeepers we’ve befriended (Barbara has several in her village), the doormen in Margaret’s and Barbara’s mother’s buildings, Margaret’s neighbors whom she cannot see but can hear or all the people who walk by Barbara’s house daily for exercise? And maybe even the Instacart shoppers who’ve become Barbara’s best new buds, or her sleepaway camp friends? Yet, there are only so many hours and days in a week. We don’t want to get carried away.
We both love having the chance to see people, their homes, gray roots and simply connect in a more personal and rewarding way than an email, text or phone call. At the same time, we wonder, when the bans are lifted, will we have anything to talk about with anybody in person?
9 Ways to Perfect Your Zoom Schmooze
- Have someone who understands the technology set it up with an invite to all participants, the date and time, being sure that it accounts for different time zones.
- Set a time limit. Barbara has found with some Zoom groups 30 minutes is fine but with others one hour is better and sometimes not nearly enough time.
- Decide in advance if attire and food matters—no PJs, for example, or if you want everyone to have a glass of wine or eat together.
- Don’t invite too many, at least the first time to be sure everyone gets to talk, sing, connect. Barbara has found that nine is a nice number and permits a group photo shot at the end that will remind the older Zoomers of the opening photo montage of the Brady Bunch on that former TV show.
- Try not to post about it on FB if you’ve limited your group membership; you don’t want to hurt those you didn’t include.
- Keep the interest alive by not holding it too often; weekly can be too much. Every other week might be better. Ask everyone involved what they prefer. Some Zoom groups are just for one special event such as a holiday, birthday, anniversary or other milestone. Again, you set the parameters with your Zoom buds.
- Also ask if anybody has someone to add in and get a group consensus. We vote for inclusiveness but not so many that it becomes unmanageable.
- Appoint a moderator in advance, and maybe rotate each week, who can pose a question, move the conversations along and let everybody have time to speak. If someone is reluctant to talk, the moderator should try to draw out that person; maybe, ask how they are coloring or cutting their hair, what they’re wearing most days, eating or cooking. If any topics don’t seem to work, the moderator can switch subjects; for example, if it gets too political. They might even suggest tours of each other’s homes or apartments.
- The time limit will let you know when the conversation is ending. Bid your goodbyes. Throw kisses and virtual hugs. Promise to get social distancing.