Unwitting Peeping Toms

The world of live webcams is getting difficult to adapt to. I am conducting a webinar. For some reason the organizers think that a Saturday afternoon is the best time to conduct one. I give in. I find a quiet place, switch off the drone of the cooler, grab my headphones, finally dismiss the thought of how weird I look on Zoom, and get ready to speak.

Of all the 300+ people attending my webinar, Zoom places a seventy-year old gentleman’s screen next to mine, just above my slides. As I speak I cannot but look at what he is doing. He obviously is too old to figure out this new-fangled technology and doesn’t know how to stop his video feed. As the moderator introduces me, I notice him prop up two pillows and lie down in bed. He has a sage-like smile on his visage. Perhaps he will appreciate my talk.

Ten minutes into my talk, I notice that he has dozed off and has begun snoring. It is rather difficult to concentrate on what I am saying with the sight of a snoring gentleman right in front of me. I begin to speak about ‘short attention spans in online learning’ and ‘the futility of conducting seminars that clash with siesta’. He wakes up and looks at the screen with one eye. Some experience!

Two days later, I am an attendee in another Zoom teaching session. This time it is in the morning. Not too early, but around 10 in the morning. The expert is demonstrating some rare cases, and telling us to admire the histology of a tumour. Again, Zoom perches the camera of a middle-aged guy right above the PowerPoint slides. He isn’t sitting down in front of his computer. He has a tooth brush in his hand. Five minutes later he comes close to the screen to peer at some lymphocytes. He has shaving foam applied on half his face. The expert continues his talk, while my eyes are now fixed on this man.

He finishes shaving, taking breaks to look into the screen, completely unaware that his webcam is on. Then he crosses to the other side of the room. He does have a wide screen webcam which focuses everywhere. He first takes off his shirt. And in a jiffy strips off his vest. I gasp and am stunned, wondering where this striptease is going. I hear the speaker gulp and go silent for a moment, but he continues as if nothing happened. I am not looking at blood vessels and eosinophils anymore. Suddenly he bends and disappears from the screen, leaving my imagination working overtime to what he might be upto. Thank God for small mercies.

Another evening. This time Facebook sends me a notification just as I return from work. It says an old friend of my mother is live on Facebook. I click the notification without thinking. Then my jaw drops. Aunty is busy performing some yoga in the privacy of her bedroom, while she is scrolling through Facebook. And completely unknown to her, her camera is switched on. I see a pair of wrinkled legs being raised and brought down. I have half a mind to call her and tell her what she is doing. But I decide not to embarrass her. I leave the live show quietly.

The world of online communication and webcams is not new. But suddenly we seem to be swamped by cameras everywhere. Being camera conscious is not an option anymore. But at least we need to learn when to switch them off. Else we will have to live with frames of Salman Khan slinking away from Iulia Vantur’s live sessions. And of course our own hilarious stories.


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