2020 The Year of Zoom

Zoom benefits: No mask or driving needed.

The theme of the Hoagies Gifted Education Page December 2020 Blog Hop is “2020 The Year of _____.” Each blogger filled in whatever word best describes their year. For me, that’s Zoom. In a big way. So big, in fact, that my blogger buddies successfully lured me back into the blogging realm by suggesting I write about Zoom.

During our Thanksgiving service at church this morning, by Zoom, it occurred to me that: (1) I’m surprised I enjoy staying home nearly all the time, and (2) my previous fear of staying home was a fear of being unable to interact with others, and (3)—-and here’s the kicker—-I wouldn’t be half as happy during this 2020 pandemic if it weren’t for Zoom contact with two-dimensional people.

By the middle of March, when the pandemic was in full force in Ohio, I had not yet retired from my job as a domestic relations magistrate in a small Ohio county. When I looked at the scary new world around me, I wanted to retire immediately. But I knew that if I had retired then, I would have been shirking my duty as an officer of the court to keep the courts open and operating despite the pandemic. Retirement then was not an option.

Many courts closed their doors to the general public back in March, and some closed again within the past two weeks for the same reason. The Ohio Supreme Court has continually made it clear to judges and magistrates that despite the pandemic and courthouses doors being closed to the general public, courts have a duty to be available for victims of domestic violence. Courts also need to hear other emergency cases, such as emergency custody actions involving children, and motions for temporary orders that might be needed in a divorce or other type of case. Closing courts 100% is not an option in a civil society.

New beginnings. My first Zoom hearing, from a empty courtroom. April 2020.

One of my first pandemic tasks was to help draft a grant proposal for the Ohio Supreme Court’s emergency grant program designed to help courts buy whatever technology they needed to operate remotely. Courts turned in their proposals within days of the program announcement, and grant money was dispersed in record time. Our court purchased laptops and other necessities for operating remotely. More importantly, we purchased a Zoom subscription.

I continued going to work from late March until the end of May even though our courthouse was closed to the public. I felt safe from the pandemic when I sat in my courtroom alone, conducting hearings remotely via Zoom. A few times I worked from home, and conducted Zoom hearings from our guest room. For those occasions, I created a royal blue Zoom background including the great seal of the State of Ohio to hide my cats during the proceedings. Why royal blue? To match my blouse. You can do that with Zoom–not only make yourself pretty, but also make your background pretty.

The hearings I conducted by Zoom were interesting not only on my end, but also on the other ends. I saw all sorts of real backgrounds, including an outdoor shelter house, a playground, kitchens, lawyers’ offices, and even the inside of a tractor-trailer cab during the driver’s work hours. I was glad the driver kept his eyes on the road, but disappointed that the jostling of the truck jiggled his camera to the point where I got slightly dizzy watching the Zoom screen during that hearing. Such is Zoom life with a jiggling camera.

I noticed that Zoom increased the comfort level of those participating in divorce hearings. I figure that’s because during an in-person hearing, you sometimes have people giving each other icy stares and cold shoulders and walking past each other in order to sit down quickly in hopes of avoiding eye contact and all manner of unpleasant behavior from the opposing party. In a Zoom hearing, by contrast, it’s hard to surreptitiously play “not nice” when everyone can see everything you do on camera and hear everything that anyone else can hear.

Also, in a Zoom hearing, you can sit in your favorite chair, and drink your favorite tea or other beverage. You can even slyly check your cell phone for the latest social media updates when you’re bored. That is, unless you’re the magistrate. I had to keep my eyes on the screen at all times, except when I had to jot down notes.

I used Zoom in 2020 for more than court purposes. In addition to the court’s Zoom account, I have passwords for three other Zoom accounts. One is for our church, which put its services, its committee meetings, and even its annual meeting online this year.

I also use Zoom for our League of Women Voters chapter, which did all its committee work by Zoom starting last spring, and even held candidate forums via Zoom this fall with generous assistance from the City of Athens.

As do millions of other people, I have a free personal Zoom account. I’ve used that account for all manner of volunteer work as well as for visiting with friends and relatives in 2020.

One of my most rewarding uses of Zoom has been working efficiently with three other women on the issue of natural burial starting in April 2020. The four of us did all manner of planning, data gathering, and researching via Zoom. We even wrote an article for the Ohio Township Magazine about the legality of natural burial in Ohio, and about our work—-remote of course!—with townships all over Athens County in hopes of convincing them to change their cemetery rules to allow for burials without vaults and without caskets. Fun fact: I didn’t met one of those three women in person until a socially-distanced outdoor meeting in September.

Future conservation burial ground?

Our natural burial group used Zoom not only for our own meetings, but also when we spoke to online university classes, held a public meeting, and presented at a church service. Recently we’ve joined forces with other groups—-by Zoom of course—-to explore the possibility of starting a conservation burial ground in our area of Ohio. And we’re planning to give a presentation during a public body’s meeting, which meeting will be by Zoom, of course. And we’ll use Zoom to screen share our presentation, of course.

Zoom has allowed my family to meet more than it has before the pandemic. I believe I’ve been more in touch with my sisters and my cousins since the pandemic than I have in years past. My children have called me and my husband more than usual, too, sometimes to subtly remind us that we’re old and thus need to take extra precautions during the pandemic. Nice of them, eh?

Thanks to Zoom and similar technology, some organizations have seen record attendance at their online conferences. The Climate Reality Leadership Corps had 3,300 attendees at their latest training in August 2020. When I attended the same training in October 2017, there were only 1,300 people attending in person. Zoom allows for far greater attendance, at far less cost.

Our empty sanctuary.

Our Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly had far greater attendance online this year than ever. For the first time, all sessions were recorded and made available to all Unitarian Universalists, whether or not they attended General Assembly. Nice bonus, right?

At beginning of the pandemic, the Ohio Supreme Court offered weekly webinars for judges and magistrates, geared not so much to teach us, as to help all of us, together, figure out how to reinvent the court system in the age of the pandemic.

Early in that series of weekly webinars one thing became clear. A lot of technology changes induced by the pandemic had been contemplated for years. Folks who advocated unsuccessfully prior to 2020 for changes, such as remote access to court records and video appearances, were amused by how quickly previous naysayers jumped out of the way and let technology surge forward in 2020. This year, more than ever before, the feared future of technology fell upon us, and surprise surprise, we’re ok—we learned the technology, and the technology is working.

Courts no longer need to require people to appear for in-person hearings for things such as divorces, expungements of criminal records, or modifications of child support. At least during the current pandemic, those hearings can be held online, with a reduced carbon footprint, and a reduced loss of work time for litigants and witnesses.  

There’s no question in my mind that 2020 is the Year of Zoom. For the Ohio court system, for religious congregations, for civic organization, for families, for schools, and even for my book club, 2020 clearly has been the year of Zoom. I believe Zoom and its technology siblings are positive forces that will be with us for decades to come.

This blog post was part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page December 2020 Blog Hop. Please visit my fellow bloggers. Complete list is here: www.HoagiesGifted.org/blog_hop_2020_year_of.htm

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