Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 9, September 1-15, 2020
Ye Gods, when will this year end was the question most often on the lips of The Man from Madras Musings until he read that the current pandemic is all set to extend well into the next year. And so, MMM has recalibrated and would like to know when 2021 will end as well. In the meanwhile, it is best to think happy thoughts, spread cheer and above all stay away from news updates regarding the virus and also shun pronouncements from the WHO (Woebegone Health Organisation). There is one man from there with a perpetually pained expression and a long name comprising four separate words that MMM particularly avoids. He (of that name 1 name 2 name 3 name 4 fame) makes the most negative statements.
In the meanwhile, MMM is rather fatigued at this point, what with his having had more than his share of Zoom meetings for Madras Week. MM was not part of the festivities, the old magazine having rather sensibly taken the stance that it would prefer to wait for better times, after all Chennai and Madras Musings are not going anywhere and will be around for better Madras Weeks to come. But that did not prevent some from sending private messages to MMM stating that they understood but were deeply disappointed, whatever that means.
They presumably wanted MM to conduct events online. Of course, some may have been deeply disappointed that the snacks and tea/coffee that was freely distributed in earlier Madras Weeks will not be forthcoming this year unless of course the magazine was considering doing a dunzo to all attendees. But these are tough times and MM does not aim to throw cash on such lavish acts.
The magazine may have stayed away but not so MMM, who spoke at this forum and that, not to forget that one, this one and the one over there in that yonder corner. All of these were addresses over Zoom, Google Meet, Webex and other such online tools, which have proliferated rather like the virus itself. MMM came away from most feeling completely exhausted and rather bemused as well, apart from being amused at times.
Firstly, there is the matter of the audience. MMM is of the kind that thrives under certain ideal conditions – and in this the first requisite is a live audience. The webinar audience is not exactly dead, but it may well be. Most meetings these days demand that the audio and video of the listeners be turned off, which mind you is not entirely a bad thing- too often you have men in vests listening in and to make matters worse, they scratch themselves as well. MMM also had a memorable meeting where two women attendees, lounged on bed, in negligees. The horror of the whole thing put MMM off his speech for quite a while. But the alternative, namely the blocking off of all screens is not so good either for MMM has the feeling that he is soliloquizing, like some character out of Shakespeare. There is no way of ascertaining if a punchline got across or if a joke was appreciated.
Secondly, there is the matter of technology. Bandwidth being what it is, what we actually get being a fraction of what was promised in the contract, showing videos or playing audios over these online meeting platforms is iffy at best. This was amply borne out around Independence Day when MMM had to speak on songs of freedom from our city. MMM thought he had delivered, with some live singing and more importantly some great recordings. Those who attended duly applauded at the end and some said it was wonderful.
MMM preened like a peacock, until an old man sent in an email where he said he wished the quality of the audio had been better. That set MMM off and he asked the host for a recording of the talk. On playing it, he found that his speech was clear and so was his singing but the audio recordings had all played out like a sledgehammer being operated. The exact equivalent would be something like digadogdugadigdigdogdougdigdingdong and so on. And yet not a single attendee had mentioned this during the talk. It transpired that they could not have, even if they had wanted to, for their audio and videos had been turned off. These two aspects kind of complete MMM’s case against these online tools but there is one major aspect to follow, which he elaborates on below.
The Webinar (lack of) etiquette
There was a time, in the old normal, when the organiser of events had to do some work. Now, in the new normal, much of this is eliminated. Thus a person who hosts a talk had to book a venue, arrange for audio and projection facilities, fix a caterer and a menu for the refreshments, purchase flowers and mementoes no matter how ugly, for the speaker, and ensure there was someone to introduce and deliver a vote of thanks. The speaker for his or her part, was expected to deliver content.
Nowadays, in the new (ab)normal, as The Man from Madras Musings notices, much of this is given the go by. All the host has to do is to send out a webinar link. As these are free tools, there is not even a monetary outlay. Rather on the lines of the Tamil proverb that speaks of shoplifting a coconut and offering the same to a wayside shrine, all it requires is the creation of a meeting link. As for introduction, these days, at least as far as MMM is concerned, it is restricted to a bland statement to the effect that the introducer is certain MMM needs no introduction, followed by a nervous giggle.
MMM also notices that this is when most people are still logging in, after they have slipped into their vests and negligees (what do they wear otherwise MMM wonders). As for the vote of thanks, that is when people have logged out in a hurry, no doubt to slip off the vest/negligee. And the memento – MMM never thought he would come to regret the absence of the plastic Ganesha, the coffee mug, the mothball-smelling shawl, the black-lacquered plaque with silver work, the photo frame and the dead flowers. But now he does. Life is a good teacher.
The organisers are clearly evolving. There is one variety which after sending the meeting link asks you to share it with all your friends (hint – please bring your own audience). If even the ensuring of an audience is beyond an organiser, why organise an event in the first place? MMM thought he had seen them all when he came across a new one. He had just accepted a speaking assignment, much against his better instincts, when the organiser said he hoped that MMM would take care of the sending out of the meeting link as well, as he, the organiser did not know as to how to go about it. If this had been a face-to-face conversation blood may have been shed at this point but having conversed over the telephone MMM had to maintain sangfroid and in an icy voice tell the man at the other end that this was the responsibility of the organiser and not the speaker.
The Man from Madras Musings has much more to say on the topic of these web meets but will desist, in the interest of preventing this column from becoming Long and Loquacious. He would just like to issue a warning in public interest that those with vertigo ought not to accept these web invites.
Many attendees focus their screens on their ceiling fans which if gazed at for long can cause dizziness. The other option of getting them to change focus is no good, as most people then present a close-up of their nostrils.