Last weekend I decided we should have a family gathering to discuss Covid-19 with our 27- and 31-year-old children. Since they live in two different cities, I used the simplest connection device: the phone. (On an Android or iPhone, you can connect multiple people just by pressing the + button on your keyboard after one party is connected.)
The call was comforting in these difficult times. We discussed how my children should deal with their work and which shows we all watched. (The Matrix, Chinatown and Love is Blind). We told each other to be careful. It was great to hear their voices. It felt important to connect as a family unit.
Technology to save …
When social detachment is the rule of the day, we rely on technology to 'reach and touch someone', as they always said in the old AT&T long-distance advertising. And in these difficult times, without lunch, coffee, games or other occasions to connect with our friends, technology is our social and emotional glue.
… trial and error
Zoom: The day before my family visit, I had connected to the writing school where I teach via the Zoom teleconference platform. We all practiced logging in and talking in a virtual group, learning how to share our computer screens and the least distracting way to view the group on a computer screen (speaker display, which creates a Brady Brunch grid of participants). I use Zoom to give my last three lessons and also to lead an art critic group
The only trick with Zoom is that it must be downloaded by all participants first. If you want to organize small gatherings of friends, you also need to sign up for their free plan, create a password and all. You can create a meeting invitation in the future, but that invitation, about a page of text, can scare your technophobic friends.
I decided to test Zoom and some other interfaces in my book group. I started with the simple phone call and used + to add my friends individually. This took seconds and worked perfectly. I used the phone method repeatedly to wrestle my friends among the more complicated texts.
Zoom worked fine for three out of four of us. Two of us had it and were familiar with it, and my friend Rolla had just started that day. In fact, she used another device at the same time to stream her adult son's rehearsal in Philadelphia. & # 39; How cool am I? & # 39; she shouted. When our fourth friend hadn't turned up after about five minutes, I checked my text messages. "They're asking for my credit card," she despaired. (In fact, you don't have to pay anything to use Zoom for small groups, although "meetings" are limited to 40 minutes.)
Facebook Messenger: Then we tried Facebook Messenger, which was a disaster. Only one friend was able to participate in the video chat; she could hear me, but i couldn't hear her.
What's App: Finally we tried Whats App, which worked seamlessly ̵
We didn't try FaceTime either, because that's an Apple-only product, and I'm using an Android phone and a Chromebook – not Apple. However, I had my husband run a FaceTime test. He found it uncomfortable and the feature 'Add another participant' is not clearly visible (you have to swipe up to find it). But it was more or less like the clean interface of Whats App when it all came out.
Pros and Cons
And therein lies the problem. You must choose an interface for your friends and family to join. Facetime is the video conference app that most people know about, but it doesn't work with your non-Apple friends at all. Zoom is great for small meetings, but it takes a bit of commitment from the participants. Whats App works, but again you need to add some time for participants to download.
My general recommendation is to try one of these newer technologies … but if you can't get all your friends and relatives on one platform, or if some of your friends are still technically shy, there is always the telephone. Everyone has one, it's simple and direct, it's easy to add a few people to the conversation (four other participants in total for iPhone, five others for Android), and no one has to download anything. It's a great default choice if you want to get in touch with multiple people to stream notes or just catch up on books or movies.
What was your experience with one of these technologies? Let us know in the comments!