Saturday, April 25, 2020
With a Face for Radio
Is it worth the effort and risk for a genealogical society, during this quarantine season, to hold their interim meetings over an online videoconferencing system?
Yesterday, one of our genealogical society's board members joined me in hosting an exploratory discussion over Zoom for precisely that subject: should other societies try out this new medium, since they can't hold meetings the way they always have in the past? We met with board members from a neighboring genealogical society, who were grappling with that question and wanted to glean from our recent experience.
As all capable board members would, this society's leaders had a long list of questions. Least among them was the "how to" or even the "how much" types of queries. The greatest concern was what their members might think about the change, and how they would handle making the transition. They wanted to hear about our experience with our own members.
Since holding our society's first online meeting—plus three other small group meetings—I've been recipient of several comments from members regarding this topic. Most have led to productive conversations, and all have helped our board more clearly see things from our membership's perspective. But some have stopped me in my tracks and made me want to shake someone and say, "Do you hear what you're saying?!"
One comment coming at me, the other day, was from a woman who didn't want to have her face show up on the camera. Fine, I thought, just listen to the audio feed. But then it got me thinking: this whole debate about whether to move our meetings to videoconferencing during this quarantine season is not just about being responsible to our dues-paying members and providing the education they've come to expect. It's really all about connecting. Again. After all this time. Because we couldn't, for the past six weeks.
So what if someone doesn't like seeing her face on camera because that hairdo needs a touch-up job, but the hairdresser had to close shop on account of the lockdown. We don't want to see a beautiful face; we want to see you, our friend whom we miss.
My husband—who, like me, also had a career in radio broadcasting in his post-starving-student years—likes to quip that some people have a "face for radio." In my case, I'm afraid that is fairly close to being true. Blame it on my mother's genes (although she certainly made a pretty picture), but I have inherited her intense dislike of being captured on camera. And yet, I'll do it if it means being able to connect with someone I haven't seen in too long a while, especially if there are no other options for getting in touch, face to face.
We worry too much whether our octogenarian society members will grasp enough of the current technological know-how to get themselves onto a computer and, even more complicated, click a link to use a videoconferencing program. Listen, they will do it the same way they get on Facebook, or use Skype or FaceTime, or even send that antiquated email: they will ask their grandchildren or nieces or nephews to get them fixed up so they just have to click a button. Or maybe, they just know how to do it all, themselves.
Last week—sometime in the middle of the week when, in former years, no one would have been out shopping for groceries—I took a look around as I tried to keep six feet away from all the people who were also shopping at Trader Joe's. Where did all these people come from? And why did they have such a desperate need for groceries right away, on a Tuesday? It occurred to me: no one was really there because they needed groceries. They were there because it was finally a beautiful spring day and they were desperate to get out of the house, but not just to take a solitary walk around the block. Grocery shopping on a Tuesday was the excuse to get somewhere where they could see other people.
We miss the people.
So when you are wondering whether it is worth it to try conducting your society meeting via videoconferencing services, don't think of the pros and cons of the technology. Think of the people. They are all desperate to see each other again. They will find a way to connect if you offer the means to connect them. Even if they have a face for radio.