You could not have imagined the virtual life that we are living today because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us are now glued to the mobile phones, computer screens and television – for entertainment, news, learning and for holding meetings. Sitting at home, we come to know about the outside world that has now much cleaner air, blue skies, quiet streets with squirrels running around the trees and the birds chirping. In this period of lockdown, the nature seems to be returning with a hope that we the humans have understood the mess we have created and have realized the importance of responsible living.
For some of us, who can afford and are lucky to have the infrastructure (i.e. a decent home, credit cards and a good bandwidth on internet), the life has continued – and so the “business”, albeit differently. We are operating now in a virtual world. Some of my friends are loving this change and will be disappointed when the lockdown is over.
Platforms like WebEx, Microsoft meeting and Zoom are taking most of the time of several, including me. We have now learned how to set up a meeting, share screens and chat or ask questions using the menus, tabs and icons and wave or greet. Even the novices to the computer world have mastered this bizarre technology of virtual interactions. Despite warnings issued, the Zoom platform has become one of the most popular connecting space.
Zooming from home can be quite an experience as you are peeping into the homes and the lives of the people. Some choose the writing desk to sit to Zoom with a shelf of books on the wall behind. This setting looks impressively intellectual. Some sit in front of a curtain or a portrait hung on the wall. Some are a bit casual and take a seat on the dining table where you see mates in the house strolling behind. Few who know zoom better, use a background picture behind them to protect their privacy. Some just don’t want to show their faces and excuse saying that there will be a dropout in connection if the video option is used. In these cases, it appears that you are listening to the voices coming from a grave or from bodies that don’t exist.
Other day, I was attending an international conference on Zoom. The topic was the impact of COVID-19 on the environmental and social governance in the word. Only select people were invited.
Many said that the national governments will now relax the regulations to ensure a speedy or instant environmental clearance. Some said that the labor laws will be abolished so that the companies can treat the labor the way they wish. Economy must be revitalized at any cost, said some. All these people strangely did not put on their videos as if they did not want to show the expressions on their faces.
The Chairman of our meeting, Professor Wood from London, however cautioned saying that now is the time that we rethink and mainstream sustainability in every dollar we mobilize and invest. Else we will mess up again – he warned. We need to be more strategic to addresses the issues we will face. He even said that the looming threat of climate change is several times catastrophic than the COVID-19 pandemic, but regretfully we as global community is not doing much about it.
I knew Professor Wood for several years and had seen him as a precise and a bold person, always organized in his thoughts and outspoken. I sent him a private message on the chat that I support his point.
I noticed that Professor Wood was sitting in the study room with a large wooden table with a table lamp lit on. Behind him was a library of books well organized, with some books with tags showing that he was reading them. There was large mug of coffee on his desk and an ashtray full of cigarette butts. Oh, Prof must be hardly sleeping, I said to myself. Certainly, Zooming was helpful to understand Prof Wood better.
I noticed voice of Ms. Elizabeth (Liz as we call her) from Vienna. She had her video on. She spoke about “Programmatic Environmental Impact Assessment” arguing that why not we embed the best practices in the project design itself and do so mandatorily. Do we need a conduct of EIA to tell us that the coal based thermal power plant needs to put an electrostatic precipitator? Shouldn’t black liquor recovery be factored as an integral part of a agri residue based pulp and paper mill? Many of the issues may get addressed upfront in this manner, she argued with several more examples.
Quite a good point I thought. I used wave option of Zoom to draw her attention to me and indicate how I appreciated her suggestions. She too waived back. What an unspoken exchange it was!
Liz had taken a seat next to an upright piano. There was a white and blue porcelain jar placed on the top board of the piano that had a light brown polish. In the sunlight reaching her room, the jar looked very noticeable. I remembered I had presented her this jar when we were shopping together on the streets of Beijing. We were there on an assignment with Asian Development Bank on environmental and social safeguards. I was so happy to see that jar and felt a bit ticklish.
The meeting ended after some more speculations and arguments but Zooming took me back to the memories.
Yesterday, my Professor Friend called me on Zoom. When I asked him whether I should set up the Zoom call, he said he will be using his special Zoom version. When we connected on video mode, I saw him very excited. He was sitting on a cane chair in the balcony. He had a cigar in his hand and an ash tray on the teapoy with two large size empty cups.
“What’s happening with you Dr Modak in this lockdown period?” He asked me as if something was happening.
I was about to respond, but I smelt of tobacco that was familiar. It was in fact the aroma of the Montecristo cigar, Professor’s favourite. Montecristo is one of the leading cigar brands in the world and enjoys immense popularity.
How come that I get Professors cigars aroma? I couldn’t believe myself.
Professor smiled. I know you would ask me this question Dr Modak. He said.
I have been a consultant to Zoom corporation for quite a while. Its actually a top secret. We have now developed a special version of Zoom that can be used for transmission. So not only can you transmit voice and picture but also the aroma in this case. So, when I smoke my cigar here, you will receive the aroma at the other end, giving you a complete meeting experience.
Oh, this is shocking Professor I almost screamed.
But this is nothing Dr Modak, this new version of Zoom called Zoom plus allows human transmission as well. So, just like the share screen button, you will have another button called “trans” that will let you travel to the destination person you chose. You can also invite someone using the “trans” button option.
Having said this, Professor looked at the two empty cups on the teapoy and asked
“Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee now?”
Wow, everything he said was absolutely shocking and exciting to me. The invitation for the coffee was also tempting.
I looked at the options in this new version of Zoom and I did notice the “trans” button that the Professor said.
“But Dr Modak, hold on”. Professor almost shouted. “I knew you will be most tempted to try, but our work is still in progress. The current stage is that the transmission happens only one way i.e. if I invite you, you will be able to transmit yourself to come to me, but the reverse transmission does not work! So you cannot go back. We are working on this bug and I hope we solve this problem in coming two weeks. Till then, you must wait”
I was really disappointed.
Professor being an abundantly cautious person, ended the Zoom plus meeting quickly as he knew that I will still try to click the button of “trans” due to my enthusiasm.
As I was shutting down my laptop, I was wondering that it will be great if Zoom plus will actually work, and in both ways of transmission. If the innovation does succeed, then it will help everyone as there will be no need to travel by train, by car or by air. No need of fuel, no emissions and so much saving of travel time without any stress! People will just transpond themselves through Zoom just like we saw Capt Kirk in the serial Star Trek.
Two weeks later, I received a call from Professor.
“Sorry Dr Modak, project Zoom plus is aborted and in fact banned because the Government realized that there is no COVID-19 check done during human transmission. But I haven’t given up and we continue to work on”
I took a pause to answer.
All the best, that is all I could say.
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