Changing times

Last evening I invested a bit of time on the telephone and computer to assist a couple of family members in setting up their devices to participate in a family teleconference to be held this evening. The occasion is the 100th anniversary of the birth of my wife’s father. We are getting together sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews for a video chat. Most of the participants were able to gather at our home a decade ago for a 90th birthday celebration. A few had not yet been born. Two of the great granddaughters had birthdays yesterday. Ours is a relatively small clan, so putting together the video conference isn’t as big a chore as it is for same families.

I’m getting fairly accomplished at talking someone through the process of setting up their computer, tablet or smartphone to participate in video conferencing. Between our home and our office, we’ve set up PCs, Macs, phones and tablets for the job. Some desktop and a few older laptop computers aren’t equipped with web cameras and there is a shortage of webcams available these days. Most people have smartphones which are fairly easy to set up. Some people have never added a new application to their smart phone or tablet and don’t know their passwords for the application store. I’ve run into a lot of different issues when helping people to set up their computers. One of the common issues has to do with windows being layered over other windows on the display. The user thinks something has disappeared, when what has happened is that they have selected a different window to display on their screen.

I never imagined that I’d become a telephone technical support person, but it is part of what is required in this set of circumstances. One of the challenges is that the set up for video conferences is “old hat” to me. I’ve had days when I’ve had as many as 5 video conferences. Some days I only have one. Then I also do a live cast every day. I’m often setting up lights and cameras and checking sound levels. And when you do something over and over again, the basics become automatic and you forget how intimidating the process is for a first time participant.

Some of the basics are even older than the technologies we are using. Photographers know that you need to light the thing you want to see. If the light is behind the subject, the subject will be dark. People, however, like to sit with their back to a light source. If you sit in front of a large picture window with a sunset outside it might be a pretty picture, but your face won’t show up on the conference. It will look like you are sitting in the dark. I’m surprised by how many participants in video conferences struggle with the basics of lighting.

All in all, however, we are learning new skills and adapting to our situation. Our urge to remain connected gives us energy for overcoming technical challenges and gives me a bit more patience for the job of giving instructions to those who need a little help.

There have been a few cases where frustration has overwhelmed folks.. I’ve worked with people who have just given up and participated in meetings without the video portion. Try as I will to describe the process for allowing the sharing of the camera, my descriptions don’t make sense to them.

It has been a demonstration for me of how much we are eager to be with one another. The videoconferencing isn’t the same as being together, but it is better than no contact. Deep within us is a desire to get together with one another. If we can’t get together in person, we seek whatever other possibilities we can find.

One of the things that worries me is that we aren’t doing a very good job of helping one another with grief. The major events, such as the death of a loved one, are being forced into new forms. Deprived of funeral services and lunches and the other things we once did to support grieving people, livestream services are a poor substitute. And people are grieving more than just the deaths of those they love. People are grieving the loss of jobs and income. They are grieving the loss of contact with family members. They are grieving the loss of freedom to travel. So many losses have occurred in such a short amount of time that we are all grieving and in our grief are a bit less effective in providing support and love and care to others. Other times of big social change gave rise to new social conventions, and I suspect that one of the long term outcomes of this time will be a complete reexamination of how we deal with grief. Display of the deceased might not be as big a priority as once was the case. We may need to find different ways of expressing our grief. Whatever emerges, however, human contact will continue to be critical in working through grief.

I have a couple of friends who are psychotherapists and who have gone to videoconferencing for their counseling sessions. They are busier than ever and have been getting positive feedback from those they serve. Their services seem to be helping others. But it is a strain on the system. Video counseling takes a special kind of concentration. It is unclear how much of this kind of service will return to in person and how much will remain technology assisted, but long-distance counseling is probably here to stay.

One thing that I hope will change during this time is the convention of waiting rooms. We are learning that we don’t really need waiting rooms if scheduling is more reasonable. It is kind of nice to go straight from the parking lot to the exam room for a doctor’s appointment. Right now, they’ve moved the waiting to the parking lot, but they will learn to shorten those times with practice.

The world is changing and we need to change with it. Perhaps we can learn to change some things for the better.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!