Zoom Tech Problems Highlight Serious Issues With Our Modern Economy

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This Christmas, it is going to be difficult to reminisce on our fond memories. With the pandemic only getting worse in the U.S., how can we possibly focus on positive memories?

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Problems With Tech

The pandemic took the life of my grandfather last week, which led to a remarkably weird reconnection with my family. There was a Zoom call that was intended to function as a live broadcast of the burial, but it ended up failing miserably due to my cousin’s inability to understand the software. Instead of watching the funeral, family members at home blankly stared at the message “the host is in another meeting” for roughly an hour. In part, I have trouble understanding how people still don’t know how Zoom works. I mean I get it, but if you’re unsure, you shouldn’t volunteer to host. Shouldn’t funeral homes be more up to speed on virtual burials because they have been doing this since April?

This is a perfect example that highlights the shift that is happening in America and throughout the world. We are successfully (or unsuccessfully) independently producing content which simulates the everyday experience of visual entertainment. Each individual is becoming a technician who feeds, broadcasts, troubleshoots and subscribes on the web.

After my failing to join the Zoom call, a family member sent me a choppy video of the funeral in a large, uncompressed file. I, in turn, posted it privately on YouTube so that I could share it with the rest of my relatives. YouTube broke the video up into several pieces with commercial breaks. This exemplifies the lack of care and understanding that these large corporations have for the individual. It also demonstrates how we give up our unique and personal experiences to the entertainment industry. We can’t watch a funeral on YouTube without seeing commercials for Target or Levi jeans, along with a queue of our top suggested videos in the corner of the screen which are set to autoplay after our current video is finished.

Using Virtual Platforms For Funerals

Furthermore, the pandemic is forcing people that normally wouldn’t have to use these “platforms” to do so and not just for funerals. Millions of people have surely spent Christmas day Facetiming and Zooming with family members and friends. We are all being forced into these online spaces.

This move to the virtual is done under the guise of a “safe alternative” to public meetings. Safety is something that we should focus on, but I question how corporatized it all is. Don’t get me wrong; Christmas has always been about capitalism. But it is startling how, instead of the government properly implementing mandates and regulations, this task is put up to individual citizens to find their own creative solutions, which ends up being through the monetary system of capitalism.

Since the pandemic began, social media and virtual meeting companies have massively increased their revenue due to heightened viewership/ usership. As a graduate student and teaching assistant at San Diego State University I experienced this firsthand from the beginning. Earlier this year, I had to invest in the technologies that would allow me to teach drawing remotely.

My home had to be turned into an improvised recording studio. Many of my colleagues have also had to invest time, effort and money in this shift. Individuals, having no better choices, are funneled toward these technologies. Unfortunately, if you don’t pay for professional accounts, specifically for Zoom, your call will be forced to end after an hour. Imagine being in a funeral that ends before they start lowering the casket.

Forced to enter these online spaces, individuals have helped support elites like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Now that kids each need a computer to be in a virtual classroom, this means that laptop and tech companies have been working overtime to meet demand. Due to the individual desire to protect family members we can see a shift from buying in stores to online purchasing. This means that there are more packages moving through the mail to people's doorsteps so that we don’t have to enter crowded stores.

What's interesting is that these larger tech companies don’t have the same government issued quarantine restrictions that small businesses do (which have gone through the process of closing, reopening and closing again). Furthermore, these large corporations such as Amazon have had devastating explosions of COVID-19. Finally, companies that do allow individuals to shop in person like Walmart and Target, are the same companies that have been bailed out by the government while small businesses deplete their savings and eventually close. These one-stop corporate shops are the only option for those not privileged enough to endure the corporate virtual shops from the safety of their couches.

Tech Companies vs Laborers

While wealthy tech companies get richer from those in need of virtual connection for work, school or social life, laborers have been forced to deal with their obsolescent nature. Computerized cashiers on Amazon move in to take the jobs of cashiers in local businesses. Colleges look at teacher’s new virtual landscapes and ponder a world where students download individual lectures from a hidden database. If they have questions, they can speak with virtual assistants.

Few local businesses need to be open because nearly everything you could ever need is sold through Walmart and Amazon and can be purchased with a click of a button. The capitalistic structure of individuals competing against one another gives no incentive to protect a local or community facility. This may seem obvious, but it is increasingly important to keep this in view during this epoch of disposing of individual laborers.

Consumption of mass produced, poorly made Christmas gifts has remained high despite so many people losing their jobs and homes. We need to reevaluate the inherent capitalism fraught within this holiday and re-imagine how we can make it one that focuses less on material consumption while still creating lasting memories. The holiday has become a thoughtless purchasing of goods which gets pushed onto our children. Here the children learn that it doesn’t matter what they get but how much they get. This can be dangerous because they risk equating the number of objects to the amount of love. Younger and younger, children are using the same Amazon sites to create their own wish lists of gifts for holidays. They find individuality within the capitalist model which creates identity based on the objects one procures and not the individuals themselves.

So what can be done in this time of devastation? Initially, I thought that the pandemic, with sweeping deaths across the world, would lead to the overthrow of capitalism. It has become apparent that we can more easily envision a world with death, disease, joblessness and a small group of elites in control than an equitable society where individuals can stay safe without having to worry about going hungry or losing their homes. We need to create a different structural model, one that doesn’t undermine the individual but unifies us with peers. We need to turn the gaze away from the endless consumption that the internet offers and instead turn it back inward toward the self and allow ourselves a new interpersonal exploration and unification with family and community life.

About the author:

Matthew Bacher is a professional artist and is working towards his MFA in Painting and Printmaking at San Diego State University. His work deals with postmodern ideas around nature, technology and the self. You can find his artwork at mbacherart.com.