Saturday, October 31, 2020

Zoom is not a Bicycle Built for Two


Years ago—alright, nearly a lifetime—I had a college friend who thought it smart to make his way around town on a moped. On occasion, he would invite me to join him at events just far enough removed from campus as to make his option of transportation a shared necessity.

I realize hardly anyone has a word like "moped" on their lips nowadays, so just think of it as a bicycle built for two—only no one is pedaling. The economical advantage of that mode of transportation may have been the only benefit it offered, I discovered after only one ride-sharing experience. I clearly was not cut out for being a back seat passenger on such a device. I wanted to lean into a curve earlier and farther than my driver would have preferred.

Let's just say I cultivated a far more charitable attitude toward the motivation of back seat drivers.

That was then, this is now, and I am far removed from that episode in Life's vignettes. Still, something happened this past week to cause me to flash back to those white-knuckled moped-riding moments: I conducted yet another Zoom class.

Word of explanation: when I am teaching a session, whether in person in a classroom or online via video conferencing, I often use a combination of live demo of websites plus PowerPoint presentations. The only downside to that option for instruction—as we all have realized, moving into this new era of online contact—is the screen-sharing minimization (to almost zero) of facial and audio input from the audience. This week, I missed that. Like, I really missed that.

Just as I learned, long ago, that everyone's internal balancing system is different, I learned last week that each of us has many different sets of mechanisms through which we take in our world. A week ago, I couldn't have told you how much I rely on input from the micro-expressions of faces in an audience far removed from my stage, but apparently, my radar is now sorely missing that input. When I walk into a Zoom meeting, I feel like I've walked into a room, blind.

How could I have missed that, all my life? How incredible it is that we don't know ourselves any better—or, perhaps, that is only me. But with Zoom on PowerPoint, I am cut off from a lifeline of facial feedback. Those nonverbal signals have no way to complete the message circuit that cues the recipient to make adjustments in pacing, let alone content.

My partners in learning and I have somehow become detached from this symbiotic process, this give and take of education. I can broadcast what I have to say, and as many as care to attend can listen, but though they can speak out with their comments, I am nothing more than a blind witness to the signs on their faces of how they are processing the information. While the partners riding a bicycle built for two are intricately involved in each other's well-being—safety in traffic being the potential hazard that it is—there is no such precarious balancing act on the virtual two way street afforded us by Zoom or other videoconferencing channels.

While I am certainly appreciative of the opportunity to connect in at least this one way—given the current, limited alternatives—I keep puzzling over how, if at all possible, we can bridge that gap of connectivity I didn't even realize I was missing, until I remembered the dance we once had in the up-close-and-personal partnership on a (motorized) bicycle built for two. 


  1. Your writing is very enjoyable. Though mere readers can't give you back facial signals - know that I have a big smile on my face. I love the way you put your finger on human experiences.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement, Lisa. It has been very rewarding to find kindred spirits along this same path to find our kin.


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