On The Unexpected: Zoom Parties And The Lessons Of The Matrix
It's official: Zoom parties are here to stay. And to anyone who ever attended an actual party, no need here to spell out why there's no comparison. Yet there I was last week in a text exchange with a friend turning down my invitation to our bi-weekly drinks at my ... er ... place, suggesting with some enthusiasm that we instead "move the event online."
This word, event, has its mid-16th century origins in the concept of "outcome," a reference I discovered when typing up a tagline for a conference management company. Indeed, the outcome could be ... anything! It was bullshit of course.
But like any decent marketing pitch it tugged at something relatable. Conference veterans know that terrible only becomes tolerable through all the things conferences aren't really for. Yes, there are the sweaty handshakes, sponsorship coffee and the double-distilled boredom of brighter-future speeches. But there's also the weird characters, free alcohol and — not often but sometimes — a flirt with that just-divorced MD. That which is unexpected is full of point when we ask ourselves what about real life can't be replicated.
Back to our caught-in-limbo present, my friend was focused on the practical: So you don't have fiber? I texted back my googling discoveries about serendipity and software updates and audio glitches. I shouldn't have expected the internet to indict itself, and the call ended with my friend encouraging me to reconsider my real-world conservatism.
Sure, my younger sister recently called me an old man in his 30s. And sure, The Matrix was released 20 years ago. But that's also where we are right now. Watching it last week, I got stuck on the scene where we find out that the original version of the Matrix was a utopian world, perfectly constructed for humans to live in the absence of hardship. But that world had been rejected by the human mind, which is not designed for functioning in utopia — and replaced by a virtual alternative modeled on the imperfect reality that existed before the machines took over.
And so today's imperfect reality includes online conferences and Zoom parties, which both were undeniably useful substitutes during national quarantines. But let's be careful not to stroll too lightly into a world where all that is unexpected is reduced to a glitch in the software.