It's 8.30am and I have my first Zoom meeting of the day. Four weeks ago, I would have tidied my kitchen, done my hair and changed into work clothes.
That's all gone now. I've taken a few photos and changed them up as Zoom backgrounds. My kitchen is the way it is and no-one but my housemates will know or care. Same with hair although there appears to be no digital fix (can't figure out how to Photoshop my hair in real time) and I'm pretty much wearing the same grey marle top every single meeting.
Welcome to Zoom life, the not-so-new platform which is consuming our lives in our COVID-19 lives. Where once we could all be in a room together now we Zoom in. In the past few weeks I've discovered, to my discomfort, that Zoom chats (the little discussion function runs down the side) are not really private user-to-user, that Zoom itself is not really private either (dear God, did I really provide my card details in this digital free for all?) and that there is such a thing as Zoombombing (hideous interruptions by pornography, aggressive nudity and other distressing content).
There is progress though. Zoom is now rolling out privacy and security updates. You'll soon be able to dump bad actors (does that include bosses?), lock interlopers out of meetings and stop screensharing (now's a good time to revisit your Powerpoints, people. Your killer presentation skills do not translate on Zoom).
Zoom is far better than the other platform we are being encouraged to use, the nightmarish Microsoft Teams, a sea of pointless threads with hard-to-follow replies. But both are no substitute for being in the same room with the same people. The digital interface drains the energy not just out of our laptops but out of our lives.
Macquarie University academic Jessica McLean who is a specialist in digital spaces, describes Zoom as a newly demanding way of talking to people, of meeting with people, because there are substantial differences in the way digital spaces shape our interactions. Where once we just had the real life intimacies, we now have challenging digital intimacies.
"Some are constructive, some are exhausting and destructive," she says.
I forget to ask her about the constructive because I'm struggling even though I know it's a great way to see my friends and relatives near and far. I'm spending far more time doing my regular work - and far more time doing work on Zoom. What you do in a classroom or meeting for example takes much less time in person than online.
Says McLean: "In a way we are slightly disembodied. You've got a face and shoulders and how you are framed in the particular shot is how you are communicating to people.
"The verbal cues and the bodily cues and the body language signs which let others know we are receiving information are now mediated quite differently. There are alternative performativities," she says.
In other words, we know it's harder for people to understand what we mean on Zoom so we might try to add layers to what we are saying since people will miss our eye rolls or our impatience.
Sociologist Brady Robards from Monash University confesses he's over Zoom himself. I ask him why it feels so draining.
"It's the impression management, the boundary between work and domestic life is blurred," he says.
Zoom requires a special energy, says Robards. He's not wrong. Listening is more intense and it's much harder to attend to the bodily cues McLean mentions. And then there's the technology layer. Someone's on mute. Someone else forgets to turn their microphone on. There's the shocking lack of reliability of the Australian internet infrastructure which means, as Robards puts it, the latency, the lag, the bloody line dropping out. You are in the middle of a genius idea when suddenly all around you freeze digitally. To death. And so has your contribution. He also says that in real meetings we can whisper, we can roll our eyes, we can have side conversations.
"These are difficult to translate into Zoom because we are tiny pixels . . we have to be alert constantly to different cues," he says.
But there are benefits, he says. Zoom and its likenesses are a big improvement on video conferencing as was even three years ago but the really great video conferencing is locked up in our offices, the screens so big you can see pores on noses and the distinguished grey streaks on all genders which would certainly be there now none of us can get to a hairdresser.
Robards predicts a huge boom in physios and massage therapists when we are done isolating because we have not yet really adapted our home offices to the needs of our bodies. Let's face it, how many of you are at this moment sitting with your screens at eye level in a chair with good back support and wheels?
Of all the approaches, Jessica McLean says there are three we should focus on. Flexibility is really important. Don't insist that video be turned on unless it's necessary. Be patient.
"We are all in this global health crisis and we are being asked to use different technologies a lot," she says. And yes, that's a lot.
And she asks us all to recognise safety is important and use caution as often as you use technology. Less is more.
I now hereby promise that I will be happy for people to drop in to my house unexpectedly. I will also sit in pubs with enthusiasm. I can't promise I will ever love meetings. Is there anyone who does?
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.