Technology has used Covid-19 lockdown to show us who’s master

Net Results: There’s nowhere to hide my ineptitude in world of Zoom conference calls

‘What do those numbers that just popped up mean? Why does the scanty manual not explain?’ Photograph: iStock

‘What do those numbers that just popped up mean? Why does the scanty manual not explain?’ Photograph: iStock

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If one moment of soul-searching clarity has emerged for me during the Covid months, it is that technology is not a tool serving me. It is an uncompromising taskmaster that seeks to undermine and humiliate at every opportunity.

I suspect that, having been forced to share our homes for months with the many manifestations of this flippant, unruly companion, all of us are united – though feebly, and without hope – against this common enemy.

As the weeks unspooled, I found my collective technology was not satisfied with relentlessly disclosing my numerous digital world shortcomings to me alone in my quiet introspective moments of trying to troubleshoot our wireless network or install three years’ worth of Windows 10 updates but having all progress halt with the one from December 2019 (as go the Windows updates, so go us all).

Instead, it relishes the chance to display my ineptitude to, at the very least, my lockdown partner but, ideally, a gathered Zoom audience.

In some ways, it’s yet another unwanted reminder that I am on a resolute journey towards becoming my parents, at least in technological terms. There was a time when I used to have to set up and fix everything that had a microchip or internet connection for them. Indeed, over time, I became deeply suspicious that this was the key reason they opened their door to me at all.

I’d barely unpack before being encouraged to crawl under a desk to fiddle with cables, restart a recalcitrant modem or update firmware.

I’d load music onto a new iPod, download the anti-virus updates, or do a clean install of Windows on Dad’s desktop PC. If I did a good job, I’d be rewarded with a nice glass of Californian Zinfandel and a catch-up on the family gossip.

Now, as I stare blankly at the ports on my Mac and try to figure out how to connect it to the TV in order to stream a film (because, of course, the TVs in the house are just old enough not to work with Apple’s AirPlay streaming technology), I know how they felt.

I regret not having produced a child that might perform a similar role for me, as I try to launch a visual representation of our super-slow wifi network using the ridiculously named “cockpit” app. It whirls the devices around the window in some communications protocol depiction as meaningless to me as a prog rock drum solo or the ranting of an Elon Musk fanboy.

Whatever does it mean when the cockpit asks if I wish to focus the network on my primary device? Why have all the little adapter node pictures changed places? What do those numbers that just popped up mean? Why does the scanty manual not explain?

In desperation, I go online and order a new set of more expensive wifi thingies in the hope that its own truncated guide and app will magically connect me, sparing further tech flagellation.

In countless ways, the worst of all these dreadful at-home-with-the-pandemic experiences happens with video-conferencing apps and sites that most of us hadn’t ever used or heard of in February. But here we all are in July, clicking meeting invites and never remembering if we have started the app or a browser window, and if the latter, will it know that this is actually the meeting you set up under your paid account so please don’t kick us all off in 40 minutes right in the middle of the live YouTube pub quiz.

We still forget that if we are on our diminutive phone screens, or watching someone make a shared-screen presentation that switched us into “view presenter” mode, that our device camera – so cleverly positioned for the best shot of nasal hairs and double chins – is nonetheless turned on and many other people are in group-window mode and just saw you yawn or sneak to the kitchen or pick your teeth.

Who among us has not been late to an important video call because we discovered at a minute before the meeting call that we didn’t actually have that company’s video-conferencing software installed, and had to do an anxious download?

Or we didn’t copy the meeting password and so must trawl through five email accounts to find the invite? Or made our most articulate five-minute contribution ever to a critical meeting before realising our mic was still on mute?

Or, in pent-up relief, emitted a loud meeting’s-over bodily noise or done a thank-God-that’s-done eye-roll before noticing everyone is still stuck in that awkward exit limbo after you click the “exit meeting” button but the camera and mic is still on and everyone’s still there?

Yeah, me too.

Hey, I’d love to stay and talk some more, but I’ve got to go FaceTime my 80-something mom in California, because her internet radio isn’t working, her iPad’s frozen and she can’t access her email. In these unwanted Covid days, at least some things have remained reassuringly the same.

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