What does the word Zoom mean to you? Do you, like me, remember when its only consistent use was as a visual sound effect for something moving at great speed in comics and cartoons? Then came the zoom lens for cameras. The lens that is much favoured by professional photographers as they seek to acquire increasingly intrusive photographs of famous people. With the computer age came the zoom function for making the images on our screens bigger. And today, of course, there is Zoom (with a capital Z) which has become a must-have resource as we seek to communicate with others during days of lockdown and isolation. If you turn to a dictionary for a definitive meaning of the word Zoom you will find that there at least seven different ways in which the word can be used. These definitions are different but they do have something in common, they all involve change and growth effected with a sense of immediacy … at speed; no delay; without prevarication.
Alongside the complaints I hear about the use of video conferencing software, I also hear of how it is a useful tool for keeping us safe while we continue to transact essential business and maintain that social interaction which is also so vital in our lives. For many it has also proved that the hours we spend driving to meetings is unnecessary because those meetings can be effectively transacted from our homes. This, of course, reduces the wear and tear on us as well as reducing our carbon footprints in a world where global warming is causing so much damage. Zoom (and other video conferencing software is available) represents effective and efficient communication during times when face-to-face contact is prohibited because it is so unsafe. But such ways of communicating are not for everyone.
Over the last year we have become used to seeing so much contained within a series of small boxes on a larger screen. We do not need experts to tell us that only communicating with others via our computers can be damaging as well as beneficial. Over the last year there has been much talk of the mental damage isolation can do. Surely Zoom has contributed to that harm. Yes, we can see and speak to each other, but it is not the same, is it? We have become disconnected from those subtle ‘extras’ that enhance the way in which we live alongside others. The body language, that says so much, is not readily available when our conversation is reduced to small boxes on a screen. Physical contact has been taken out of our lives. The handshake, the hug and the kiss have been turned into acts of carelessness and harm. But … those simple physical acts of greeting are so important in establishing the atmosphere for even the most casual of conversations. They say I am pleased to see you and to speak to you in a way that an appointment in the diary and a Zoom invitation never can. As I reflect on our growing dependence on video conferencing in our lives, I also pause to lament the wearing of masks. Surely I am not the only person who now realises how much they rely on lip reading and facial expression as they converse with others.
The way in which we communicate at the moment is, of course, sensible and responsible. We are protecting others as much as we are protecting ourselves. But … what about the future? We are told that things will never be the same again now that the world has succumbed to Covid 19 and its attendant variations. This has now been said by so many experts that we should probably believe what we are being told, however unpalatable it may be. And yet, we do need to be careful that we do not use the ‘horrors’ of the last year as an excuse for remaining distanced from others.
Throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus touching the untouchables. We also read that he rated the loving of our neighbours (and our enemies) as the second greatest of God’s commandments. Sometimes we can only express that love for our fellow human beings by standing in their presence. The lonely and the fearful will understand exactly what is meant by this. It is the calling of all of us, not to ignore sensible regulations and precautions, but to constantly find ways of bringing the warmth of human contact into the lives of others. It is through that warmth that the love of God will shine into the dark corners of the times we are living through. Let us look forward in hope. Let us keep safe and well. Let us be creative and loving, just as Jesus was. Let us never be Zoomed away from those who need those moments that only we can give.
Revd Stephen Buckman