Simple mobile phones once seemed like the epitome of sophistication. Today, not only have the number of devices proliferated, but the methods of communication too. Rob Orchard, founder of slow journalism magazine Delayed Gratification, considers how to sort your Zoom from your Zulip, when to go for BlueJeans and what FaceTime has to offer in the 2020s.
I t was 1998 and I had just bought my first mobile phone, a Nokia 5110 with a two-tone screen and a stubby antenna. Bowled over by the futuristic technology, I celebrated by climbing up a tree and calling a friend. “Guess where I’m calling you from?” I said. “A tree!” He was suitably impressed. As well as allowing previously unthinkable arboreal communication – and boasting the simple, highly addictive game of Snake – my Nokia could hold an astonishing 15 text messages at a time. When it was full, I’d write down the ones I particularly liked in a notebook so I could delete them from the phone and make space for new arrivals*. Limited characters made ugly abbreviations and proto- emojis unavoidable – but the overall experience was pretty gr8 ;).
Next came the novelty of Skype and other video-calling software, our first introduction to the phenomenon of the frozen screen and the new etiquette of internet-stilted conversation – an overlapping symphony of people saying “You go!”, “No, you go!” to one another with a five-second delay.
Searches were made for ‘Zoom dating’ on Google for the first time, while ‘zumping’ (the act of ending a relationship via video call) was suggested for inclusion in dictionaries
The global domination of video-calling apps was secured by the pandemic and the subsequent locking down of up to a third of the world’s population. People who had never previously thought of using these cunning bits of tech were suddenly relying on them to contact clients, run their businesses and take part in interminable family quizzes.
Zoom in particular seemed to capture the zeitgeist – searches were made for ‘Zoom dating’ on Google for the first time, while ‘zumping’ (the act of ending a relationship via video call) was suggested for inclusion in dictionaries. And the phenomenon of Zoom-bombing – in which bored trolls invaded earnest meetings to shriek obscenities – was born.
While Zoom still often dominates the headlines, it’s not alone: a bewildering panoply of communications options has been placed at our disposal. Teams gives us the chance to blur our backgrounds, sidestepping snarky appraisals of our bookshelves by colleagues. Google Meet works well in a browser, unless you have dozens of tabs open at any one time and can’t find your way back to the meeting after idly clicking off it for a spot of browsing.
Webex was shot into space on the Artemis I mission, so presumably it will become a top choice for any meetings you might have with astronauts. BlueJeans, I believe, is good for cowboys.
And then there’s all the collaboration software – Slack, Trello, Figma, Zulip and the like. Are they wonderful ways to keep remote-working teams on track, as everyone can see what everyone else is doing at all times? Or are they digital panopticons that make you spend all your time thinking up positive things to say in the chat window so people can see you’re still there, severely limiting your opportunities for actual productivity?
Phone-centric FaceTime, WhatsApp and Signal make it delightfully easy to run your life from the cafe or pub, firing out requests and briefs between coffees, pints and games of Snake (now happily available for download on smartphones). They may not seem quite as professional as their laptop-focused counterparts, but they are certainly the ones to reach for if you ever want to make video calls from trees – yet another boon of our interconnected world n
*I appreciate this will sound insane to anyone born after 1990