Caught on Camera

The one gift of moving work to online spaces? Beautiful new ways for people to make messes at meetings.

Samit Basu Updated: Jun 19, 2024 17:45:47 IST
Caught on Camera illustration by Siddhant Jumde

A few days ago I had a work meeting on videocall. Nothing unusual about that, and, as a person who doesn’t enjoy offices at all, I’m glad that post-pandemic work life isn’t as dependent on in-person meetings as it used to be. 

But as I looked around the digital room, one thing I noticed that brought me great delight was that absolutely no one on the call was making any attempt to look glamorous. No fancy lighting, no special digital background, no carefully curated rooms, no effort to show faces at their best angles. Just a set of people dourly talking work, wholly unconcerned that their faces were visible.

I don’t have any nostalgia for the lockdown era—I wish those years had never happened, and I hope they never come back. But one absolute gift that the forced movement of work to online spaces gave us was beautiful new ways for people to make messes at meetings. A whole new genre of human error was added to our vast collection, and that’s something to be grateful for.

Remember the legend, Robert Kelly—the man whose BBC interview about South Korea gave the world an unforgettable video where first his daughter and then his toddler in a stroller burst into the room from behind and wandered towards him, followed by his wife entering with a commando-like crawl, on a grim Rambo-like mission to retrieve and remove the tiny invaders.

Remember the legend Rod Ponton, the lawyer who appeared before a judge on a virtual case and was unable to turn off the filter, which presented him before the federal court as a little fluffy white cat? “I’m not a cat,” he said, to explain matters.

And so many other heroes, interrupted by pets or kids or noisy relatives, burdened by inappropriate backgrounds or people in the wings, in the wrong room because of a wrong link, or simply rendered immortal by forgetting to mute themselves, or put on clothes. It was a strange time.

In previous eras, this category of beautiful event was confined to collections of bloopers—behind-the-scenes footage from films, or mistakes made on live TV. But thanks to modern technology, everyone’s a broadcaster now, and everyone gets their chance to become a part of history with a popular on-camera mistake. Some even manage to combine these eras—every now and then, footage pops up of someone being interviewed on TV, but their dog or cat has commandeered the computer instead.

So get on a videocall today, and be as chaotic as possible. This is an art form previous generations could not create, and perhaps your quickest route to legendary status.

One day in the future, when aliens reach out to us from their spaceship via transgalactic videocall, and a long time is spent in awkward silences, followed by everyone speaking at the same time and then saying “You go ahead,” “No no, you go ahead,” and then falling silent again, maybe yours is the name they will remember.

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