At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: COVID-19

Why Zoom Meetings will be a Permanent Part of Home Life

It’s probably time to give your imperfect Zoom background another look, because you’re probably going to be using it… forever.

During one of my recent Zoom meetings, I received a comment about the old iMac in my home office. The white computer was sitting sidelined in the background on top of a short bookcase. I retired this 2004 iMac long ago.

But like some of my old tech, I never threw it away. Now, it sits like a museum piece, available for anyone to appreciate (or question) whose wandering eye might be checking out the details of my home office.

What’s That?
Don’t think for a moment that your Zoom-fatigued viewers aren’t looking around your Zoom box. They crave any opportunity to thaw their pandemic-frozen eyes, locked to their computer screen all day.

Anything of interest is an immediate target. And so was my ancient iMac.

It’s actually hard for people not to notice the details of the space you’re in. It’s natural.

Virtual isn’t Real
So, if you feel your room isn’t ready for prime time, should you simply activate a virtual background?

Easy, right?

That’s what many people have been doing during their Zoom meetings. But even though the functionality is there for that exact reason, I think it’s a bad trade-off.

The Value of Authenticity
Sure, it’s a one-click solution to hide your environment that could otherwise use a little more art direction. But it also erases any opportunity for your authentic living space to support your personal brand.

You can only work with what you’ve got. And I think your viewers will understand that. In fact, they’ll appreciate it.

Yes, you should remove any unnecessary clutter in your background. But if there’s an unusual object like an old Mac perched on a shelf, so be it. If you’re lucky, it may become a conversation piece during your next Zoom.

And that can really help to provide some context to your identity, especially when you’re meeting someone for the first time on a two-dimensional computer screen.

It’s Time to Build an Official Zoom Zone
Yes, thanks to Covid-19, our lives have become televised (well… streamed).

And when we eventually return to a post-pandemic existence, I think that new normal will still contain a healthy dose of Zoom meetings. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s not going away… ever.

Sure, you may be free to move about the cabin of life again, but video conferencing from home is an established norm that has taken off.

And this will bring up proactive decorating opportunities for spaces that you’ve designated as your Zoom zones. Perhaps you’ll consider a new framed print or painting on the wall behind you. A different piece of furniture? An arrangement of fresh flowers? A total redesign?

The same way that the family room became the next generation of the living room, I feel it’s inevitable that a Zoom zone or even a ‘Zoom Room’ will become a natural addition to our future homes.

Yes, people can always use a virtual background. But eventually, they’ll move out of their temporary Zoom mindset.

Sharing a more permanent reality is usually a much better long-term solution.

4 Ways Tech Helps Me Adapt During the Pandemic

The pandemic has forced me to reevaluate my relationship with my technology. Here’s how I’ve adjusted my focus.

I’m so happy there’s light at the end of the tunnel now that Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out. And while there’s still a long road ahead, I can begin to think about how some of my technological adaptations during the pandemic might continue into the future.

I Rewired my Hunting and Gathering Instincts
I used to think that spending extra money for online grocery delivery was an unnecessary luxury. We’re genetically encoded to hunt and gather. So spending decades going to supermarkets had seemed like the natural way to acquire food.

But since the pandemic began, I’ve relied on FreshDirect for the bulk of our weekly grocery needs. I know folks go to the grocery store wearing masks and practicing responsible social distancing. I simply went in a different direction.

Sure, there are other online options for grocery delivery, but when times were especially tough at the beginning, and open delivery slots were hard to find, FreshDirect came through for me more often than the others.

And even when the pandemic is over, I plan to continue using FreshDirect. I’ve already signed up for the $129 annual membership (DeliveryPass), which unlocks free delivery.

Whole Foods technically offers a better deal, because free delivery is already bundled into my Amazon Prime membership. That said, finding an opening in the limited two-day delivery windows can still feel like you’re playing the slots in Vegas.

No, it’s not like I’ll never walk into a grocery store again, but there’s real value to having the bulk of your groceries regularly delivered to your doorstep. (I’ve also appreciated the time saved from not having to shop and wait on line at checkout.)

I Learned to Live without Two-Day Shipping
Once upon a time, it felt so empowering being able to shop online and receive purchases within one or two days, often for no additional shipping costs. How convenient was that?!

But there was a hidden tradeoff. I no longer had to be especially organized. Whenever I ran out of something, I could almost magically have a replacement quickly show up.

But when the mail slowed down and two-day delivery became ‘you’ll get it when you get it,’ it created a shock to my system. I realized that I suddenly needed to plan more… like I once had to.

So, I built back that muscle of self-reliance and tracking my own supply chain. It’s felt good being more conscious of the specific resources that my family requires and when.

Blurting out to a Siri or an Alexa that I need more milk when I’m holding the empty carton maybe isn’t so empowering after all. Not when you’re already out of milk.

Free two-day delivery is great. Two-hour delivery is incredible. Drones dropping boxes from the sky at my every shopping whim feels like a future shopping nirvana. Who needs to worry about what you need if you can have more of it within hours?

Well, remember that now, maybe you can’t have it for a couple of weeks or months. And you’d better not forget how to live that way. 2020 was a cautionary tale in so many ways.

I Forced Myself to Keep my Webcam On
I don’t have to tell you about the isolation. The loneliness. The feeling of being cut off. In many ways we’ve been living in our own little bubbles.

Of course, that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Our little webcams are one of the few safe ways we are able to break out and communicate face-to-face, if only virtually. My iMac’s webcam is my lifeline to my outside world.

Sure, it takes effort to be ‘on camera.’ And you should always put those Zoom best-practices to use, no matter who you’re Zooming with.

Yes, it’s easier to turn off your webcam and communicate via audio only. But I say it’s a bad tradeoff. You’re losing so much without sharing your face and your visual cues.

So, if you’re concerned about really staying connected with those who matter, use that webcam and let them see you!

I Paid for More Bandwidth
Did you also face a barrage of complaints from family members that your home Wi-Fi network couldn’t handle the increased load of endless Zoom meetings, online learning and Netflix streaming?

The culprit is probably not your home Wi-Fi network. It’s your Internet service plan. So, go check it and then upgrade your bandwidth to the next level. That should do the trick.

I was paying for the base plan of 100 Mbps. So I spent $10 more a month to double it. That stabilized the Lester family really quickly. (There are faster plans, but I say that you should buy only what you need.)

I Focused on the Essentials
If there’s a lesson here, it’s realizing the true value of technology when life gets turned upside down.

It’s not so much about the conveniences. It’s about how technology can support the essentials like food and communication.

If your technology is supporting your fundamentals, you’re on track! The rest is just a distraction.

Why More Beach Time Helps Me Stay Centered

If you live near the beach, I recommend visiting it more often. Not so much for the sun or swimming, but to simply soak up the larger space. Here’s why…

It’s been six months already. Can you believe it? It feels like forever. And yet, these months are just a blip in a much larger timeline. That’s been easy to forget when my world has largely been compressed into the safe but limited square footage of our home.

When I do get out, I’ve found it helps to remind myself to look about… really look around. That has recentered my perspective and helps me feel more comfortable enduring this marathon COVID-19 experience.

The Value of Beach Time during COVID-19
My family and I have intentionally spent more time at our local beach over these past months. Beyond the expected and soothing qualities of that primal environment, the beach is a clear reminder that much of the world carries on as it has for countless millennia.

Warm or cold. Rain or shine, it’s helpful to be in that space (and of course, while practicing social distancing).

That sense of a larger continuity may not provide complete consolation, but it’s a good reminder that we’re all players in a much longer game.

At the beach… you can feel the greater normal. And that helps me stay centered.

This group of visual moments is a reminder that even though many pieces of our day-to-day lives have evaporated, other basics are still firmly in place.

Slow and steady.

Feeling the Rush
In so many ways, we’re all rushing.

  • Eager to read more news of a vaccine
  • Hoping to get back to normal soon
  • Wanting to reduce all of the stress

Rushing to find a way back.

But of course, we can’t go back. Not really. Too much has already changed.

So, it’s actually all about finding a way forward… to something somewhat different and perhaps better.

That’s all we’ve got. And you can’t rush it.

Set your Pace
We’ll get there. But it’s like a marathon. You’ve got to pace yourself.

And spending a little more time at the beach regardless of the season and perhaps taking a few photos and timelapse videos are good ways to help stay balanced throughout all the disruption.

It’s worked for me, and I highly recommend it.

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