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laundry detergent. Others savvy enough to blur their backgrounds have had
their waving arms and hairstyles distorted by the same function that erases
the personal setting.
A few of us have used fake backgrounds that provided permanent daylight
(it took some time to realize that the gloriously light-filled lofts of
Toronto attendees would not have been possible on winter evenings their
time!) or that caused disproportionately large books and gaudy flowers to
tower over us, as in Lilliput, poised for attack.
Most of us have had moments of being “frozen” onscreen or, in a limbo
state, appearing and sounding weirdly discombobulated. While we may have
experienced an untoward moment of joy when an opponent or opposing witness
appeared to take on the guise of a Bond supervillain or to be stopped in
their tracks, there has never been time for complacency: a “bandwith is low”
warning could appear on our own screens at any moment!
Some of us have been joined online by animals (no, not simply the
humans who graze on snacks during online meetings). As we first reported
in our still somewhat shell-shocked September 2020 Bench and Bar (when
we were all still novices at this!), animals crashing meetings have included
Canada’s Buckwheat, the former guard donkey, and a range of animals
(including goats and llamas) dispatched via a California-based “Goat-2-Meeting”
service. To this point that service has staffed over 8,600 virtual events
and still offers “a fresh (and hairy) face” to brighten them up.2 A competing
service in the United Kingdom (“Find out if your workmates, friends and
family are paying attention by adding a goat”) allows hosts to pick the goat
who will attend, selecting from traits like (depending on the goat) a “soul
penetrating stare”, “passive aggressive bleating” and “ambivalence”.3
Human entries and departures from online meetings proved awkward.
Early on in the pandemic, Business Insider recommended as a brilliant
“prank” (a prank?! This is still reality!) the following:
Pretend to be muted
This is simply a good gag. Unmute yourself, but then mouth words without
making any noise. Everyone will start yelling at you — “you're muted!”
they'll yelp — and then people will get mad about the Mute indicator
being off, and then they'll get confused about why they can’t hear you. I
recommend you keep this bit up for at least 30 seconds, so it has time to
be funny, and then get old, and then loop around to be funny again.4
Articulating a lovely goodbye, and then being unable actually to figure
out how to leave an online meeting, marked awkward moments for some.
The spell check and autocorrect that factor into the thousands upon thousands
of e-mails and texts that we send—and sent even before the pandemic—
have given us some moments of laughter as well.