This story in the UK Daily Mail online newspaper caught my attention this morning.
A maths professor has delivered a two-hour Zoom lecture only to be told by students that he was on mute the entire time.
Dong Wang's screen froze within minutes of the presentation and students were unable to contact him as he ploughed on with his silent lecture at the National University of Singapore.
A recording of the incident shows the end of the class, when Prof. Wang somehow unmutes himself as he asks the students: 'Do you have any questions?'
There are nervous murmurings before one young man pipes up: 'Hi Prof, actually you were muted all the while so we cannot hear anything from you since 6.08.'
Uh from what?!' Prof. Wang exclaimed – it being after 8pm on February 4. 'From how long did you hear?'
The students told him that they only heard the first few minutes of the lecture before the professor's screen froze and he went silent. Video shows the maths tutor exhaling rapidly and squinting as it dawns upon him that he's just wasted two hours of his Thursday evening. But rather than question his students over why nobody had let him know that they couldn't hear him, Prof. Wang made apologies and said he would repeat the lecture another time.
It piqued my interest, coming, as it did after a couple of car-crash Zoom meetings which had hit the headlines over the past week, highlighted by a discussion on the issue on a London-based talk radio show earlier the same morning.
Many of you will have seen video clips of the meeting of The Handforth Parish Council Planning and Environment Committee, a small suburb of Birmingham, UK, which took place just before Christmas. Normally rather dull affairs, this virtual council session began badly when the Clerk attempted to bring the meeting to order while the Chairman told her to get lost, under his breath. Well, actually he used an ‘F’ word phrase which I won’t reproduce here. At this, the Clerk, one Jackie Weaver, decided that was grounds for exclusion and she promptly ousted him with a click of her mouse. That done, she promoted herself to Chair of the meeting by proxy and attempted to steer the meeting and the members, deftly batting away questions on whether she had the authority so to do till brought to task by Vice-chairman Aled Brewerton who branded the meeting “illegal” . Jackie then asked the group to elect a new chairman and an enraged Aled then bellowed: “No they can’t because the vice-chairman is here, I take charge. Read the standing orders. Read and understand them.”
Jackie is now an internet sensation!
This week also brought forth another instantly-famous Zoom fail, this time in no less auspicious occasion than a virtual, visual court hearing from Texas in which one lawyer had to assure the judge and other court officials that he was not a cat! A Texas judge issued an "important Zoom tip" after the lawyer inadvertently used a cat filter during a virtual hearing. Judge Roy Ferguson later tweeted about the incident where lawyer Rod Ponton showed up to present a case in Texas' 394th District Court with the filter of a cute kitten on.
"I don't know how to remove it," Ponton said in a clip of the live stream that the court shared on YouTube titled Kitten Zoom Filter Mishap. "I'm here live; I'm not a cat."
Ferguson then tried to walk Ponton through how to fix his settings – the blind leading the blind.
These examples are only a small sample of big Zoom fails. When I Googled ‘Zoom meeting disasters’ 65 million results came up. The reason is obvious - - a global health crisis which crippled industry and commerce, forcing technophobic staff and managers to take a crash course (alas, the word has proved all too apposite!) in online video conferencing. What could possibly go wrong?
Though not the only such application , Zoom leapt to the fore during lockdown and is now a household name. Formerly merely an obscure conferencing tool for a freaky few, it has burgeoned into a necessary evil for business, education and social communication, proving extremely good news for shareholders. Its June 2020 annual results saw a massive increase in profits and a doubling of its annual sales forecast. The once-obscure Zoom Video Communications rapidly emerge as a Silicon Valley gold mine as the financial results highlighted the astronomical growth that turned it into a stock market star. The rocketing stock more than tripled in price, gaining nearly 3% in extended trading to $213.60 – more than five times the company’s initial public offering price of $36 in 2018 - and this year’s results are forecast to greatly exceed these numbers.
It was the right tool at just the right time and most of us by now are regular users but what those now apocryphal stories referred to earlier prove that like most tools, they only function effectively when properly used. There have been other, more lurid examples of spectacular Zoom embarrassments when users fail to impose self-discipline and business standards and, frankly, a degree of common sense.
Whilst we can all sympathise with the red-faced lawyer and his cat icon, apparently put in place by his daughter, - be honest, would you know how to tell that cat to scat, pronto? – it’s a simple concept to prepare for a Zoom meeting as you would any other, remembering that it’s not just audio, it’s visual, and you don’t want to be caught, literally or figuratively, with your pants down, and yes, that has actually happened!
And that’s when you find YouTube fame for all the wrong reasons Just read the standing orders!