Everthing you wanted to know about Zoom, but were afraid to Ask!

Zoom: Socializing in the Time of COVID

by Vern Paige, June 25, 2020

For most of us, for most of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has all but eliminated in-person socializing. To try to limit the spread of a deadly new disease, to reduce risk to the health and lives of ourselves and loved ones, we have stopped meeting face-to-face with family and friends.

However, technology can let us socialize in other ways. One of these is through “virtual meetings” or online video conferences. This isn’t all new. In 2003 my nephew in Vancouver introduced his fiancée to his parents in London by Skype. Before video was possible, there were telephone conference calls. Before that, more than 100 years ago, neighbours shared “party-line” gatherings (not always willingly!)

Technology has improved of course, and the pandemic has driven us to it to mitigate our feelings of isolation. Skype is still used, much improved in 17 years, now sponsored by Microsoft. Among many alternatives, Zoom has found prominence for use in business and education as well as socializing.

Many group activities that were cancelled or suspended because of the pandemic have resumed in modified form, as “virtual” gatherings, online, using the Internet and software such as Zoom. Other software providing some similar features include Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Team, Facetime, WhatsApp and Houseparty. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Zoom is often rated as the “best overall” as well as best in several specific categories. RTOERO has decided to use and recommend Zoom for many group activities. We in District 23, for example, are using Zoom to continue bi-weekly meetings of our e-Devices Group (formerly Mobile Electronic Devices Group) and are considering it for several other activities.

Do not think of Zoom as just a poor substitute for in-person gatherings. It is much more, not just a substitute but an alternative and in many ways better. Zoom allows meetings of up to 100 people (up to 49 visible on your computer screen at one time) without the time or expense of travel and accommodation, without having to manage catering and cleaning. You cannot hug and kiss, but instead of rarely or occasionally you can meet as often as you want. Family in Toronto have met with family in Spain at least weekly since March; without Zoom there would probably have been only one or two phone calls monthly. A small effort to” learn” Zoom has paid back with opportunity and willingness to learn; the novelty intrigues children, and adults are motivated to improve their technology skills which is itself a benefit. We use Zoom for music lessons, tutoring and homework assistance, bedtime storytelling, “Happy Birthday” singing - all more frequently than before-pandemic, novelty-enhanced, and without time-consuming travel.

By reducing our travel, we have more time for other things (we’re busier than ever!), savings on car expenses leave a little more money (for more wine, for example), and police report a significant reduction in accidents. “Screen-sharing” during Zoom meetings lets us discuss photos and information as we share them, a more involving experience than merely exchanging emails. Having intended to adopt Zoom as only a temporary accommodation to pandemic restrictions, many organizations have begun to recognize other benefits, among the obvious being the ability to provide services (education, information, entertainment, etc.) more efficiently to more people at less expense.

Even if all pandemic restrictions were to end immediately, many uses of Zoom will continue because of unexpected benefits that have been recognized.

Zoom meetings can be held by computer, tablet, smart-phone, or any phone. Someone participating with only a “not-smart” phone cannot, of course, be seen by others nor enjoy the video experience, but it is at least an option to avoid complete exclusion. Zoom meetings can be recorded to re-live the experience or to share with others who could not participate.

You can participate in a Zoom meeting through the Zoom website, using most browsers, or by dialing with a not-smart phone, but at least one person must act as “host” and must install the Zoom app on their computer, tablet, or smartphone. The “experience” of a meeting is also slightly improved by using the app rather than a browser window. Meetings are completely free of advertising. The app is free to download and install, requiring only that you register your name, email address and birthdate. (I do not encourage dishonesty, but, just between us in confidence, you can give any date that shows you are over 18.) The only advertising is Zoom’s permanent but unobtrusive suggestion that you upgrade from the free Basic license to a paid license.

A free Basic license allows you to “host” unlimited meetings of 2 people for up to 24 hours, and unlimited meetings of up to 100 users for up to 40 minutes. A Pro license for $20 monthly removes the 40-minute limit and allows some additional features. A few other types of license, more expensive, are available with additional features for large organizations.

Much of the information on Zoom’s website is geared to business users, but you can nevertheless learn much there - and register for the free Basic license and download the app to your device. The website is https://Zoom.us

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