Teri Orr: Zoom in — Zoom Zoom — Zoom
While I have done zero professional research into the etymology of the word — Zoom — it is a word I have known and taught to children and adults my whole life. It was first the sound we used to animate toy cars — made of metal or plastic that we played with in the dirt or on the floors of our homes. It meant the object was supposed to be moving fast — so you said it twice in rapid succession. And with a certain animation and attitude. “Zoom zoom.” As your hand propelled the replica of a vehicle.
It was used as a verb — “we’re gonna zoom to the store” and pick up some ice cream or a loaf of bread or whatever product was needed. It implied quick action.
Later in life — when I started using a camera as a professional tool of my job — I had lenses that would help me “zoom in” on a shape or object. Instead of the whole house, say just the curlicue gingerbread trim. Instead of the whole 6-foot-tall person — just their eyes, or hands or mustache. I would hold my hands straight up in front of my face, fingers tight, thumbs touching, to frame what I wanted to capture with my zoom lens. The point was to narrow the focus, and capture a piece of the whole that deserved to be magnified.
Zoom — in the time of COVID — is synonymous with interacting with others. A Zoom call makes our computer an even greater tool as we take the capabilities of our phones and add a larger screen and see business associates in the comfort of our home and theirs. In any room we choose we can move our laptop computer and converse. In a time of sometimes nearly unbearable isolation and lack of human connections we can instantly see — in living color and with untrimmed beards — relatives from so many places on the planet. Or business associates or even a live isolated performance. The recent virtual Sundance Film Festival allowed folks from all over the planet to not only watch films premiere simultaneously but also allowed the viewer a front-row seat (living room, outdoors on a porch, in a bed) to see the folks who made the film — acted in it, directed it, wrote the screenplay. When we talk so urgently and passionately about accessibility for buildings and events — in the future — we will need to consider the power of streaming capabilities to be truly accessible. For so many humans who, for whatever reasons, may not be able to leave their homes even temporarily, access to the world through a screen seems like a pretty basic need.
My standing Monday night Zoom meeting involves five of us who share a passion for Our Town. It is not to be confused with my mostly text group of a different five humans who almost never Zoom but shoot off rapid-fire messages all day and night sometimes. These are different from the cocktail hour zooms with some other friends as we share many topics with a beverage, but mostly we land on current local politics. My little family was Zooming on a fairly regular basis last spring and summer on Sunday nights. My son would send out the ingredients needed for his cocktail of the week and we would try them. My newly discovered relatives from the internet would gather up folks from up and down the West Coast and include me in celebrations. And then just three of us had a little New Year’s toast in the week when one year became the next. It was lovely to see their tiny cabin in the Sierras with their crackling fire matched by my own.
Politics in the time of Zoom have been amusing at best and annoying at worst — so in some ways business as usual. But the mumblers have become slightly more audible and the folks who always seemed to be looking down at their notes realize that doesn’t work well on screen. And the level of engagement from the public has not diminished but rather increased. To be able to NOT bundle up in a blizzard to drive to wherever the meeting is and take off your heavy coat and stomp your boots and share sneezes has made the public more focused and somehow more urgent. We want better government. And we want to participate more fully and Zoom has allowed that. We are better informed, I suspect, than at any other time in recent history. So in matters of affordable housing or new projects and parking lots or closing down Main Street, we have opinions and they are being expressed in a more concise fashion than the “stand up at the mic and start rambling about the same thing the last person said.” If you missed the Zoom meetings the city has done recently on the arts and culture district, or the development at the PCMR parking lot base, you have missed a bit of good theater as well as public process. If you have gotten a wee bit lost in the circular conversation about traffic circles and over- and underpasses in the county — well, you would have been more lost, I guarantee, if you had been stuck in chambers.
Good government requires good access to the public and like it or not — public engagement. The excuses of “I can’t get a sitter” or “it is too cold and snowy to drive tonight” or “I don’t want to sit through all those topics, I just want to hear about this one thing on the agenda” … all of that has been actually been made easier during COVID. So if you are grumbling about the proposed arts and culture district and say you had no idea the project could top $130 million, you just haven’t “zoomed in” on the issues. And if you say you had no idea the city and the county have clearly quietly filed for divorce over the custody of effective public transportation then you haven’t zoomed in on an issue that is about to define all the other issues. The ability to communicate has never been easier and more accessible to so many. And with the ability to zoom in on local issues, I predict this local election season will not exactly be a picnic with no ants on any Sunday in or outside the park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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There are several major development proposals looming in Park City. Tom Clyde says the time is now to “place your bet on which one turns the first shovel of dirt, and which one goes back on the shelf.”