Alexander McCall Smith’s information to Zoom etiquette (do you know it’s unhealthy kind to wave?)


When I was a boy there was a detective named Dick Tracy. He still exists somewhere in the weird world of immortal comic book characters, even after having been on active service since 1931 when he was first introduced to the public.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021, 4:45 p.m.

“/>Video conferencing is a form of technology that is relatively new to Alexander McCall Smith and many other people (Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto).Video conferencing is a form of technology that is relatively new to Alexander McCall Smith and many other people (Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto).

Like all of these characters, he intends to be his enemy, in his case a flattop Jones whose aim is to murder him.

Tracy also has a girlfriend, Tess Trueheart, whom he married in 1949 and with whom he had a daughter, Bonnie Braids. More important than this sideline, however, was Tracy’s famous two-way wristwatch. My ten-year-old looked longingly at pictures of Tracy speaking on his wrist. I knew that such things could never be, but one could always dream.

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This desire for nifty gadgets was well understood by James Bond author Ian Fleming, whose creation Q designed all kinds of gadgets for Sean Connery and his successors.

Car ejection seats and machine guns hidden in Bond’s Aston Martin were none other than the device revealed in Goldfinger – a working, car-mounted GPS device that Bond used to track the progression of villain Auric Goldfinger on his way could follow his hiding place. It seemed so unlikely that it led to giggling disbelief. Fun but impossible.

But then everything happened, and Tracy’s wrist radio looks as primitive as a crystal radio, while Bond’s GPS arrangements look a little awkward. Technology has a way of sneaking in on us and making even the inventions of the day before yesterday seem hopelessly old-fashioned.

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Here’s the absolute best thing to do in a video conference call – Susan Morrison

Almost within reach

“/> Queen Elizabeth II during a video call from Windsor Castle to members of the armed forces around the world (Image: Buckingham Palace)

So it was with Zoom, the video communication platform that has changed the way we work and, to some extent, the way we lead our social lives.

How many of us had even heard of Zoom a little over a year ago, let alone incorporated it into our vocabulary and lives with such enthusiastic and open arms? But here we are all, zooming out several times a day.

With Zoom we can be in a virtual space together when we are separately in Los Angeles, Melbourne and Edinburgh. The images we get of each other can be crystal clear, the sound as bright and undistorted as in a real physical meeting.

The distance does not shrink to anything; All we can’t do yet is touch each other or transmit disease. At a distance, teachers can talk to students. Doctors can examine patients; Business people can haggle and bargain; Lovers can watch one another; Even weddings and funerals can be attended remotely.

Parish clerk Jackie Weaver became famous after a stormy meeting of the Handforth Parish Council (Image: Handforth Parish Council / PA Wire)

And yet, like any technological innovation, Zoom poses problems. One of them is the issue of zoom etiquette, which I only discovered two days ago. Previously, like many I suspect, I’d used zoom without knowing what to do or not to do.

Superstition or Shibboleth?

And then, very politely, someone told me not to say goodbye to Zoom – something I’ve been doing for a year without realizing the Solecism I was committed.

Apparently, you just don’t do that, and so does the moment you first see the other participants on a call. I waved to them with undisguised delight at the wonder of technology. Not only is this a very cheeky thing, apparently, it’s just bad zooming manners.

I’m not sure about that, and I suspect that the rule – if it is a rule – has just as much reason as the rule that in German bourgeois circles against cutting a potato with a knife or in America against carrying it White applies to shoes after Labor Day.

These things are superstitions or shibboleths and are usually nonsense. However, some of the other rules of zoom etiquette are based in the ordinary way and are simply applied to a new engineering environment.

The first of these is that you should be aware that you are in front of the camera. This means that you should not make a zoom call in an extended state. Courtesy apparently assumes that you don’t look too disheveled as you are projecting yourself into someone else’s room and people in general prefer cleanliness and tidiness.

However, there are stories of people taking short cuts in this regard and wearing clothing on the top of their bodies while zooming in naked below the waist. It’s a matter of self-respect and moral integrity. It is a delusion not to wear pants while on a Zoom call, knowing that the camera will only show what is shown above the desk. You actually laugh at the ignorance of the person you are talking to. That is strictly Kantian wrong.

Cheesy fake wallpapers

Zoom etiquette also requires you to ask people if they’d like a Zoom call to you rather than impose it on them without asking if they’re greeted. There are many people who suffer from Zoom fatigue and can’t think of anything worse than receiving another Zoom call after spending all day in Zoom job-related meeting rooms.

Can you decline the offer of a Zoom interview? The answer is almost certainly yes, but you should do so tactfully and blame bandwidth issues. “I’d like to talk to you, but I don’t have the bandwidth” is a perfectly acceptable statement. It is a strictly Kantian lie, but etiquette sometimes justifies hypocrisy and sparing the bandwidth.

After all, you should never fake your background. With zoom you can stand in front of a picture of Everest, in space or with a favorite star. This is seen as “cheesy” in zoom circles. It is particularly cheesy to stand in front of a picture of a large parmesan wedge, as I have seen.

You should also refrain from throwing away the pulp fiction and putting impressive looking books on the shelves behind you. When you read Dick Francis, make people see that – don’t make them think you are reading David Hume. Of course, when you zoom in with a writer, make sure you have his books behind you on the shelves. That is common courtesy.

Zoom is full of pitfalls. When in doubt, you can use the phone which is much simpler. It can also be used in the bathroom and is still available when it’s all over.

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