Last year, as the pandemic set in and we all began to isolate and socially distance, an old word with a new meaning entered our cultural lexicon, Zoom.
As businesses made the switch to remote work, the videoconferencing platform Zoom rose to prominence as the world’s virtual conference room. But it didn’t stop with work. Zoom became the way that we stay connected to our friends, family and even strangers during the pandemic.
There were Zoom calls with parents, Zoom classrooms, even Zoom dating. And of course, who can forget the Zoom bombing trend of last April, when malicious malcontents would login to non-protected Zoom sessions to shout random obscenities.
The brand became ubiquitous to the point that the word took over other forms of videoconferencing. Sort of the way anytime you do an internet search you might say you “Googled” something.
Side note, and something I learned from a podcast recently, the first use of the word “Google” as a verb in media was a 2002 episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”.
Anyway, moving on.
By mid-2020 we were all Zooming. It was one of the few bright spots during an otherwise dark time. But, that’s not to say it didn’t come with drawbacks. Zoom can get expensive if you need to move outside of the basic tier of the program. The video and audio quality can be spotty. And then there’s the issue with the company’s China-based ownership.
A report from The Washington Post last December detailed how Zoom executives had worked with the Chinese government to monitor and in some cases suppress Zoom calls about topics considered sensitive by the government. Several Zoom users in the United States reported having their Zoom accounts “abruptly terminated” after using the platform to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Of course, companies imposing censorship at the will of government is not new. Similar incidents have come to light with Tik Tok, the latest social media sensation, and another company that is headquartered out of China. But let’s be clear, this is not a phenomenon that is strictly limited to China-based companies. Many U.S. movie studios have been accused of censorship in order to allow their films to be shown in Chinese markets, where they often rake in billions of dollars.
Corporations have always and will always engage in shady practices like this. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism. And so we, as consumers, are made to compartmentalize these drawbacks in order to make use of new technologies.
All of this is to say that, despite some misgivings about its corporate ownership, Zoom has been a (mostly) effective tool for people to maintain a small fraction of normalcy throughout the pandemic.
The question is, will it be able to sustain its popularity going forward? We’ve seen technological trends like this before where a company steps up to fill a role, does an okay job, and then not long after a new company moves in offering an improved version of the product.
Zoom certainly isn’t lacking for competition. Facetime, Duo, Discord, Slack, Google Meets and plenty of other options exist for those looking for a potential alternative to Zoom. And, while Zoom remains on top for now, there will be every opportunity for them to be consumed by a bigger fish. After all, even with infection rates dipping and more and more people becoming vaccinated, it’s unlikely we will ever go back to life without videoconferencing.