April 29, 2020

“Silent Zoom” meetings are the new thing; zen zoomers seek serenity


(Note from the marketing director: Subsequent to last week’s fiasco, the managing editor has been restored to factory settings. We will continue to monitor his status closely.)

The use of videoconferencing tools like Zoom in response to widespread quarantining has already become a backbone of the so-called new normal, with the company now boasting 200 million users worldwide—up from 10 million in December. And of the many creative uses that people are finding for the ubiquitous technology, one of the most unusual is the advent of the silent zoom meeting.

Say what? Is not the whole point of Zoom the conjunction of voice and image, the doubling of what Jean Baudrillard called “the mystagogic universe,” the enactment of the “presupposed Adamic ipseity”? Is this not contra what the philosopher Peter Dews called “the [contemporary] triumph of a reflective unity of communication at a pre-subjective level”? Does this latest turn of the screw signify a leap over the forced disjunction of sign and sound formerly instantiated in the telephone, the text message, even the humble letter? If Zoom is logged on in a distant forest, and there’s no sound, is it even Zoom?

Not so fast! According to The Guardian, writers and book-lovers have found that reading or writing together in enforced silence to be both productivity-boosting and therapeutic. “I’m completely hooked,” said a writer named Anne Penketh of her periodic “virtual monastic retreat.” Penketh went on to compare her silent-Zoom experiences to the calm and focus that one feels while working in a library—remember that?—with the participants’ “heads bowed over their laptops.”

Of course, this whole trend didn’t stop one wag from pointing out that—paraphrasing David Letterman, on Elvis Presley—in much the same way that a handgun makes any television remote-control, any Zoom meeting can be made silent, if only unilaterally. We checked in with some industry colleagues about this new wrinkle, but unfortunately none of them would commit to public comment. Ah well … we take our peace of mind where we can find it, these days. Silent Zoom meeting? Why not?

Wash your hands!




Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.