OPINION: Because Zoom sucks, LIVE will never die | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Before this unforeseen crisis, most of us had never heard of Zoom. Life was just fine without it. Yet within the three months from December ’19 to March ’20, Zoom experienced a twentyfold increase in regular usage. In this strange world order where toilet roll, pasta and flour had become the new currency, Zoom was right up there on the list of essential requirements for surviving lockdown. People with previously simple tech requirements had to upgrade their hardware to keep with the programme. In this arena of Zoom domination, the tech savvies became kings.

We needed Zoom (other online communication channels are available) in our lives to save us from ourselves – to alleviate the boredom, to stave off the loneliness, to make remote working work for us, to stop us unravelling. Our work, creative and social lives moved online. We took online dance classes, played board games, joined in quiz nights and singalongs and orchestra sessions…it was all there for the taking. Within a month, we had the option to invite a llama to our conference call.

Just like the rest of you, I jumped right in. Pretty soon however, I’d exhausted my capacity for it and ‘I’m all Zoomed out’ became my go-to excuse for not showing up 24/7. It was then I realised that Zoom sucks. Like much in life, it promised so much and delivered so little. That’s the truth of it: online communication is simply no substitute for the real thing. It’s the best we have right now, I grant you that, and it’s probably better than nothing (although the jury’s out on that in my head). I always leave a Zoom call dissatisfied. My deep longing for authentic connection has not been gratified.

If we loved live gigs, shows, exhibitions and performances before, how much more will we appreciate and treasure them from now on?

Zoom gives us the faces to accompany the voices, but not the detailed facial expressions, the hand gestures, the body language, the vibe. That’s partly down to poor lighting, internet connection, inexperience etc…but mainly because if you put a screen in between you and the action, you transform the experience, generally into something less good: less authentic, less real, less satisfying. Our autistic friends tell us that this is what everyday life has always been like for them. This is a different level of contact, communication and connection that leaves most of us floundering.

I yearn for the day when the screen between us will be removed and I can look you in the eye and we can relish a hug, a nudge, even a handshake. Until then, we’ll do the right thing and continue to live out our lives online. In the meantime, artists and performers of all genres have taken to the internet to provide us with all the entertainment we need. It’s been a steep learning curve for everyone all at the same time. They’ve all had to adapt faster than any of us and they’ve done so amazingly. But however good the performance is, it is not live. And therefore, not the same. We miss the vibe that live performance brings.

If we loved live gigs, shows, exhibitions and performances before, how much more will we appreciate and treasure them from now on? You don’t know how much you’ve got until it is taken away from you. And for those who will still need convincing, we, the evangelists for live, now have the vocabulary to explain why there is no substitute for a live performance. We have a real life, universal example that everyone will get because everyone has been there – because Zoom sucks, LIVE will never die.

We cannot wait until it is safe to fling the doors open wide at all the venues and invite artists and audiences back into the space, but we will wait, obviously. From where we currently stand, we cannot confidently predict the how and the when. It’s all pure speculation. We have no precedent for this. We cannot know for sure when we will next take to the stage, sit in the audience or stand shoulder to shoulder at a gig. But we do know the why. We can be certain of that.

Because live is where it’s at. The full sense-surround experience. There will never be any substitute for that.

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