LAST-MINUTE MUSINGS: Zoom with me into the future

Monday, June 29, 2020

One fun aspect of the last several months (no, it hasn’t been all bad) has been the way we’ve been able to lampoon the ever-growing train wreck that is 2020.

More than once, I’ve seen memes suggesting that a gremlin is about to get wet, thus making the year even worse than it already is. (If you don’t get that joke, “Gremlins” is available for $3.99 on Prime Video. Stop wasting your life.)

A tweet I saw recently suggested that the lack of time travelers coming to stop 2020 from happening means we never actually invent a time machine. However, a friend of mine countered that perhaps they keep coming back and making it worse.

Regardless, 2020 stinks.

We have a worldwide pandemic, racial problems we fooled ourselves into believing we fixed two generations ago, a highly volatile election coming up and maybe something called murder hornets?

But has 2020 been all bad?

On the plus side, we have realized that it’s OK to actually slow down and spend time with the family at home — even if that sometimes means we have to retire to our own rooms and spend time together … separately.

On the racial front, we’re having uncomfortable conversations with ourselves and others about the past, present and future of race relations in this country. Growth is going to be painful, but it will be worth it.

From my perspective, citizens’ access to local government might have made the biggest gain in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

As recently as four months ago, if you wanted to keep up in real time with what was going on at a local government meeting, the only way to do so was by going to the meeting. (Never mind the timely updates your friendly, neighborhood journalists strived to provide in these very pages.)

If your schedule was too busy, you were out of luck. Same goes for anyone stuck at home caring for small children or aging adults.

It’s just the way government meetings have run since … well, since government meetings started.

Then came COVID.

When we thought it was going to be a matter of weeks, some meetings just got postponed or canceled. No reason to gather in a room to talk about potholes when our lives might be at stake.

As the time of social distancing stretched out, though, everyone suddenly became experts in livestreaming.

Since mid-March, I’ve been a part of meetings on Google Meet, Periscope, Youtube, Facebook Live, Cisco Webex and of course, Zoom.

Zoom is the big winner in all this, as it seems to be emerging as the catch-all verb for anytime we really mean “meet via video conference.”

Although I wasn’t familiar with the term as of February, I’ve since “Zoomed” with boards throughout this county, with my fellow members of the Greencastle Rotary Club and even with multi-platinum artist CeeLo Green.

While the concept of meeting virtually bothered me at first, it’s become oddly freeing. There was the May meeting of the Putnam County Council in which it took just a little too long to get supper cooked and eaten and I wasn’t going to make it across town in time.

So I just tuned in via Periscope.

Then just last Monday, the newly-crowned editor had too much on his plate and needed to physically remain at the office.

So I just sat at my desk and followed the Greencastle School Board meeting by Google Meet, designing pages when I wasn’t taking notes.

By no means do I consider this an ideal way to do my job, but it’ll do in a pinch.

But what about those of you for whom meeting attendance is not a part of your job requirements? What if you want to know what the Putnam County Commissioners are up to but can’t make it to the courthouse at 9 a.m. on a Monday?

What if 7 p.m. on a Thursday just doesn’t work for you, but you still want to know where the Greencastle City Council stands on that street closure up the block?

What if, even after we have a COVID-19 vaccine, you just don’t feel comfortable or safe going out to one of these meetings for any old reason at all?

Fortunately, some of our local boards are moving toward broadcasting meetings as their “new normal.” Cloverdale had started to put meetings on Youtube even before the pandemic hit. Greencastle has put city council meetings on cable access for years, but is looking to expand that to the internet for those of us who don’t subscribe to Xfinity or MetroNet.

There are others I know of who are moving forward, embracing the technology and getting more people connected.

Still others are lagging behind, returning to “normal.”

But I don’t think that’s OK. We’ve seen the other side of the mountain and it’s good.

If your board/council/commission of choice isn’t making its meetings available online, call the members up and ask them to consider changing that practice.

If we can get it right going forward, maybe we won’t need that time machine.