Something for the weekend, sir? Mute the mic. Hide the webcam. Freeze the split screen. Activate the delivery method!
I have been practicing all week for this time. Once the alarm sounds, the process should be as smooth as a Thunderbirds-are-go launch sequence. In fact, every time I step through the stages, I find myself humming the uplifting musical theme – preferably, the late 1960s version of the credits performed by the Barry Gray Orchestra. While this version doesn’t include the oddly fishy mid-way sax, it does feature an epic James Bond-style brass signature.
Excuse the cliché, but it could be called “iconic”.
Speaking of icons, I have now scripted the above sequence in an automated routine launched from a shortcut on my desktop. I just press the starter and fly away!
Hmm, but what Thunderbird icon should I assign to it?
My choice of icon will be important. Thunderbird 4 was my favorite when I was a kid, but it’s not exactly a powerful visual trigger. Icons should work subliminally as well, uh, obviously, and that little yellow 1960s submarine tends to conjure visions of bubble baths rather than online business meetings. Unless… can I organize meetings from my jacuzzi…?
Now There are a first world problem: One person’s perfect icon is another person’s embarrassing blunder. Take, for example, the statue / monument / thing that was unveiled this week for the newly renamed “Esplanade Johnny-Hallyday” in Paris, in honor of the late “great” rock singer known throughout France.
Please click on this link and scroll down to see a photo of the monument as you wouldn’t believe me if I just described it in words.
Avoiding the convention of producing a wobbly dissimilarity in the physiognomy of Jean-Philippe Smet, the designer who was responsible for creating the statue chose to mix two very specific icons associated with the man whose voice recalled that of an Austin Morris. starting on a freezing morning. : Harley Davidson guitars and motorcycles. Literally: the monument is a giant fretboard with a Harley Davison screwed onto it.
Just be thankful that the designer of this monument was never asked to create one to commemorate the death of Princess Diana.
No, icons should do more than represent – they should to suggest. Your brain duly makes the connections and whispers the answer back into your head. I saw a fine example of the art of iconic suggestion in a recent detective magazine article on Ron Jeremy’s indictment of sexual assault. To help young readers unfamiliar with Jeremy’s work, the editor had obviously been asked to, uh, come up with stills of films, only to find that they couldn’t be released in their raw, shaggy form. . Extreme blur was then applied which made the still images in the film safe but unrecognizable and therefore unnecessary.
So they added icons to allude to the mystery behind Photoshop’s wide-radius Gaussian blur adjustment.
A wheelbarrow and a pipe? What the hell could be happening to these images?
For my Delivery Method script, I opted for a parcel icon with an anachronistic postage stamp.
The delivery method, by the way, is my solution to a very particular problem with videoconferencing while working from home: how to accept a delivery from a courier to your front door when you are supposed to be live at the screen?
Of course, there are plenty of ways to sneak out of an online meeting for a few seconds to go to the bathroom, let out the cat, or yell STFU at your kids. But the days of knocking on the door, signing a slip and saying thank you are long gone. This is because I now live in one of those infuriating mansions that have an extra line in the address, and even in 2021 no courier company can handle such a thing.
Even the lines they may contain on the delivery label are randomly truncated, making my property invisible. I had a DHL parcel blocked at customs for a week because the label said I lived at “14 avenue”. Just that, nothing else.
This kind of nonsense means that the courier – through no fault of his own – has to call me and ask me where I live. I give him directions. He parks in the wrong street. I stand on my doorstep, still on the phone, guiding him like air traffic control in the Airport films, while watching for passers-by who pretend they might get lost and who are carrying a package.
Long live aerial drone deliveries, I say.
Until then, I’m worried that retailers like Wilco will leave half-armed with the threat of drone road vehicles linked to gutters. In the unlikely event that a human courier in a van found the entrance to my property, they would phone me to ask for the entry code. What will this autonomous buggy do when it collides with a keypad operated barrier? Extend a telescoping finger to strike the keys, as in an episode of The Jetsons or 1970s Judge Dredd?
Basically every courier delivery turned into a prolonged, repetitive Groundhog Day drama that unfolded over several minutes. I need a method of meeting escape that saves me extra time.
Plus, sneaking in the conventional way only really works when you’re a passive participant rather than an active participant. Standard methods cannot be used when you are the person who is actually leading the meeting and you need to remain visible on screen throughout, such as when you are the keynote speaker in a customer webinar. Maybe they even paid see you floundering, who knows? They certainly didn’t pay to watch you chat with a disoriented delivery guy.
What seems to work is to feign complete abandonment of the network. The trick is to make it look real.
For that, it must be sudden, inexplicable, and slightly confusing. As soon as I notice my cell phone vibrating, I keep talking until I can hit the mute button precisely in the middle of a sentence. The webcam follows immediately after. If I share a screen, it must be frozen but remain visible during the entire break.
If done correctly, it can take a full 20 seconds for participants to start typing in the chat box saying “Can anyone hear something?” They will spend the next minute confirming it among themselves. For an additional minute, they will discuss among themselves what they think should be done next. The third minute will be occupied by idle discussions about the weather affecting 4G signals and the scarcity of broadband in the underprivileged pockets of the city center.
By the fourth minute, I’m back on the screen, unmuted, and speaking through a completely different presentation slide. I take my time and, as attendees yell in the chat to tell me I’ve cut for a moment, I gracefully stop while gently pushing my delivered package safely out of the webcam shot.
“Oh, no problem,” I hum confidently. “Let me start over. “
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance tech enthusiast, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. If the city of Paris were to erect a memorial to your life, what icons do you think the designer of the monument could awkwardly concoct to represent your accomplishments? A Nokia 3210 and a voltmeter? A cheeseburger and a can of Relentless? A handful of cable ties? Answers in the comments, please. More at Autosave is for wimps and @alidabbs.