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Daniel Dunaief

This past week, I spent more time personally and professionally speaking with other people than I had in over a year.

I give myself mixed reviews. Two anecdotes capture the range of my experiences. During one meeting, my brain had its own mini dialog, even as I tried to stay focused on details about a story I was researching. Here’s a sample of that internal dialog:

Wait, why is he looking away? Should I not have had that salad earlier? Do I have something green in my teeth?

No, hold on, maybe it’s that you’re tired and your eyes are closing. Open your eyes wider to indicate that you’re paying attention. No. NO. NO! Too wide! Now, he’s wondering why you’re staring so intently at him.

Okay, he’s looking at you again. Oh, no, I have to scratch my face. What do I do? Ignore it. Yes, that’s working. No, it’s not. Now, my face itches even more. Come on face, suck it up. No, I have to scratch. Maybe I can coordinate the scratch with the moment when he looks away. Come on, look away!

Great, now he’s looking at me without blinking, like Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men.” Wait, I’m listening. Really, I am, but I’m a tad distracted. It’s not my fault. It’s my face’s fault. 

I’m focused. I have a good question ready, but I still need to scratch my face. Look away. LOOK a-WAY! It’s not working. Instead of scratching, I’m twitching. Now he’s staring at the part of my face that itches and twitches.

I’m going to lean on my hand and scratch subtly, while listening intently and making solid, but not scary eye contact.

Okay, so, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, but it was an imperfect and slightly distracted moment in the real world.

Later in the week, I had another opportunity to multitask. Just as I started walking across a courtyard to a meeting, it started pouring.

I walked quickly. Running didn’t seem like a great choice because panting, dripping and sweating is never a good look for me.

When I arrived, an incredibly supportive executive assistant asked me if I wanted a hot tea, coffee, towel or water. I said I’d be fine.

Once I got in the office, I immediately realized, dripping onto, into and around the chair of one of my favorite sources, that his air conditioning was among the strongest in the area. In addition to the cool air in the room, I felt a slight breeze, which made me feel as if each droplet of water clinging to me might soon turn to ice.

As I spoke to him, rocking slightly back and forth, putting my hands under my legs to keep them warm, I was well aware of how ridiculous I must have looked. At the same time, I appreciated the in-person nature of the experience, which wasn’t an option six months earlier.

I enjoyed how the multitasking necessary to stay on track was so much different than the challenges of Zoom, where my primary concerns were whether the background in the screen included messy clothing, whether I was looking at the right place on the screen, and whether my dog would decide to bark at the five-year-old learning to ride a bike in front of our house.

Venturing further out than I have in over a year from the turtle-shell life felt like stepping back into a familiar but altered role. Despite the momentary and awkward setbacks, it was a welcome return to a three-dimensional world.

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By Melissa Levine

I’d like to start this article with a moment of silence for the Class of 2021… 

Proms, senior spirit days and even the very foundation of their senior years were all stripped away from them and replaced with some warped placeholder that did its job only because it had to. 

Though it’s true that missing out on these rites of passages is immensely difficult for seniors, no experience, in my opinion, was more challenging than the college application process for students planning to attend their fall semesters. 

Combining the aspects that we were all enduring virtual school work, the emotional plights of the pandemic (among other feats), and our inability to visit our potential schools, the college admission process proved itself to be a battlefield, and us inexperienced soldiers, untrained in the art of practicing “business as usual” in a time of chaos.

During the admission process, not all students are created equal. 

In a normal year, young artists, or students who are applying to go to art school, (music, acting, art, etc.) are oftentimes overlooked. 

Guidance counselors are typically never equipped with the proper knowledge to guide these creative students through their applications smoothly, as there is an abundance of supplemental, or additional information, needed to apply or audition for these kinds of programs (on top of regular application information). 

So, it’s safe to imagine that these seniors in particular had a myriad of extra strain placed on their rounded, poorly postured shoulders this year.

In my personal experience as an acting major, I had to audition for about 10 schools. I was not allowed to visit any of my potential campuses, and all of my auditions happened online, in 15-minute increments, accompanied by interestingly assembled Zoom waiting rooms. 

I found myself musing “To load, or not to load — that is the question” before each of my virtual auditions, hoping that in some way the benevolent spirit of Shakespeare would get me through my audition without my internet dropping. 

Melissa Levine

Zoom became the new go-to way to explore all of my campuses and meet the faculty — as much as anyone can ever meet anyone in the “Zoomsphere”.

In a particular instance, I was waiting to be let into the virtual audition room for one of my top choice programs. My wrinkled, homemade backdrop hung rather unimpressively behind me, providing my auditors with a, “non-distracting, unbusy background to maximize their ability to focus.” 

I nervously fiddled with my new ring light, unsure if I looked too washed out by the bright circular ray against my fair complexion. I heard my cats scratching outside my door, crying to disrupt my audition, because they love meeting new people as much as I do. 

I was let into the audition room early, as even over Zoom, any young actor will learn that to be early, is to be on time, and to be late is inexcusable.

Thankfully, my audition ran without a hiccup. I performed a piece I had prepared, answered one or two questions they had and was sent on my way. The moment after I had finished my audition, I tried to contact a good friend of mine via Zoom to tell her how it went. 

I never had the chance to call her.

Faster than a young child promises their parents they did in fact brush their teeth, my wifi dropped in its entirety. My computer was unusable; it was at the mercy of whatever wifi deity had decided to unleash its wrath upon it. 

To this day, I still don’t know how I was so lucky — but I’ve learned that sometimes, things are left better in the dark.

Needless to say, the admissions process was an exhausting experience. Nevertheless, I’m grateful that I can consider this weird period of time a moment of communion between other class of 2021 actors and myself. 

We will always be known as the virtual generation — a group of confused teens who were forced to become more tech savvy than they ever needed to be. But we will also be known for our resilience, and our passion for what we do. 

We endured dropped wifi, the “hey friend, your muted”-es, and the gargantuan amount of butterflies in our stomachs when we saw that white screen that said, “The meeting host will let you in soon,” because of our love for our art, and our determination to not let anything stop us from creating — because doing that would be like telling us to stop breathing.  

And I think we all know — we must breathe to survive.

Melissa Levine is a senior at Comsewogue High School. She committed to Ohio University for her BFA in Acting, with a minor in screenwriting.

Photo from Pixabay

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We live such a two-handed life these days. On the one hand, we are emerging from our pandemic shells. On the other, we don’t want to race out too quickly, undermining all the work we did to protect ourselves, our families and our school communities. To that end, I had a few topics on the two-handed nature of our lives:

The weather

On the one hand, it’s a relief that we can enjoy warmer weather. The summer is approaching. The calls from seagulls blend with the steady rhythm of water lapping up on the shores, urging the fortunate residents of Suffolk County to return to the peace and harmony of the water.

On the other hand, the temperature will undoubtedly climb into the hazy, hot and humid zone at some point. While the beaches are wonderful, we won’t all have time to stroll on a sandbar during the week.


On the one hand, many people are getting vaccinated, increasing the likelihood that we’re taking an immunological stand against a deadly virus. With a greater percentage of the population inoculated, we stand a better chance of coming together, revisiting family and friends we’ve only seen on Zoom for over a year.

On the other hand, a subgroup of people are reluctant to take the vaccines, worried about side effects, the speed at which the vaccine was developed, and a host of other concerns. If enough of them don’t get vaccinated and/or if variants evade the vaccine, we may not be able to beat back this virus as quickly as we’d like.


On the one hand, we are so incredibly proud that our children have made it through whatever stage concludes this year. We appreciate all they have done to get here and to become the incredible people they are.

On the other hand, wait, hello? How did the time go by so quickly? Did we prepare them for the real world? What is the real world? What does it mean to graduate into the second year of a pandemic and how can we prepare them for some of the unknowns and unknowables ahead? 


On the one hand, we can, potentially, talk about politics again without the echoes of personal animus reverberating from an angry White House. In theory, we can even agree to disagree or to consider compromise.

On the other hand, has the left become too powerful even as the right engages in party strife? Are calmer waters really around us, or is it a temporary reprieve until the tempest returns with the elections in 2022 and 2024?


On the one hand, we are freer than we’ve been in over a year, to travel and visit family, to take our masks off outside and read people’s lips and study their smiles. We can even consider traveling outside the country.

On the other hand, after living with a fear of human contact, how much can we set aside our concerns about the public health dangers of interacting with other people? 

A return to offices

On the one hand, we have a chance to speak with each other in person, to share stories about our lives and our children and to discuss the surprising run of a Knicks team guaranteed to have a winning record this year.

On the other hand, we have to deal with traffic, parking spots, lines at lunch, and conversations that keep us from returning to the homes we couldn’t wait to leave.

Pixabay image

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Virtually everyone seems to agree that when the pandemic is finally over, life will not be the same as it was pre-COVID-19. Prominent among the changes will be some degree of working remotely. Before the virus descended, requests to work from home at least part of the week were typically refused by employers. Enter “Zoom” in lock-step with the pathogen.

Technically, Zoom was among us before the virus but only a small segment of the population used the platform. Once we were restrained to our homes, we laypeople discovered how easy and useful it was “to Zoom,” and the name became a verb, much like Xerox or Google. So certainly Zooming will remain with us for a long time to come. But what are its unintended consequences?

For one, there is the phrase that has now entered the English language: Zoom fatigue. We, who are on Zoom regularly and for long periods, understand this term. According to an article in National Geographic, published this past Tuesday and written by Theresa Machemer, new research offers data on this phenomenon to confirm our perceived discomfort.

Here are some interesting bits of information. On average, women report 13.8 percent more Zoom fatigue than men. Here is more: besides long days full of calls with few breaks that are the culprits, the self-view video, the crowd of faces on the screen, the expectation to stay in view of the camera, and the lack of nonverbal cues all tax the brain. I would add to that the lag between what is said and its transmission is tiring for the eyes and frustrating to the point of encouraging us to talk louder, which too is tiring.

OK, so we can agree that remote working has its perks: “no commutes, flexibility to handle household tasks, and easy access to conferences for all workers, including those with disabilities.” To an extent, we can now live where we want to live, and we can attend class even if the school shuts down due to an emergency or natural disaster. (No more snow days, sorry.) 

So here is what the scientists who specialize in the interactions between humans and technology developed, according to National Geographic. They created a tool to measure fatigue, called the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale, or ZEF. They then used this in large surveys to measure that fatigue, in addition to how long each person spends on Zoom and demographics. Here are four factors that affect teleworkers.

The “lack of nonverbal cues is stressful because people cannot naturally convey or interpret gestures and body language when just their colleagues’ shoulders and heads are visible.” That presents a constant struggle to the viewer for proper communication.

Here is another, perhaps surprising response. “During video calls, people report feeling trapped in one spot so they can stay within view of the webcam.” As a result, they feel stressed, according to the researchers. Further, the default window, in which users see themselves constantly, can cause “mirror anxiety,” a self-consciousness that can result in distraction and has been linked to depression. 

Finally, there is something termed “hypergaze,” in which the viewer feels that the other person or people on the call are staring at them, their faces appearing so near and so intense as to cause discomfort for the brain.

The survey confirmed that women who spend more time in meetings, with shorter breaks between them than men, reported greater mirror anxiety and felt more trapped by their video calls.

How to cope: use a standing desk to feel less trapped; an orange filter on the screen may reduce eye strain; take at least ten minute breaks between video calls; ask conferencing companies to limit the maximum display size of heads on the screen; use some form of hybrid scheduling for home-office work.

I cannot let this subject go, however, without thanking the tech companies for making it possible for me to “see” my family members during this separation of more than a year. It has kept us connected and sane.


File photo by TBR News Media

Every year we sit down with local candidates for our preelection political debates in the TBR News Media office. This year, of course, those debates were held via Zoom.

Despite the new format this year, one thing didn’t change — the first thing we do is thank each of the candidates for taking on the responsibility for running for office. We recognize being a public official is no easy task and running for office is just as difficult.

All candidates deserve an extra round of applause for their patience regarding the counting of mail-in ballots. After Election Day, as we reached out to the various candidates in our coverage area, those who were behind after in-person voting remained patient, and those who were ahead were humble. Most who were ahead didn’t claim victory as they understood the importance of making sure every ballot was counted, and they acknowledged every single vote mattered.

After a few long weeks, we would like to congratulate U.S. Reps Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY3); state Assemblymen Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills); and state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) for regaining their seats. We also welcome newcomers, state Sen.-elect Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and state Assemblyman-elect Keith Brown (R-Northport) to the world of legislation, as well as Sen.-elect Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Assemblywoman-elect Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) to their new roles.

Now that the votes are counted, it’s time to get back to business. We urge each of our elected officials to take the next few weeks to carefully assess what is going on in their districts, so after they are sworn in come January, they can hit the ground running.

It’s no secret that the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on our local businesses. Those in Albany and Washington, D.C., need to get them the funds they need to keep their doors open and their employees on the payroll. If the funds aren’t available, those in government need to work together to come up with creative ideas to keep these businesses afloat while ensuring public health safety.

Elected officials also have to look deeper as to how hard the pandemic has hurt their constituents financially. The loss of jobs and pay cuts have left many unable to make their mortgage and rent payments or keep their refrigerators full. Conversations with residents may provide vital information about what is truly happening within districts.

While New York is one of the fortunate states to have strong leadership during the pandemic, there is still a lot of work to do. And while we can hope for federal aid, we can’t count on it, as all of the states are going through the same struggle as New Yorkers are. We need to come up with new ideas to help keep Long Island strong.

Looking beyond the coronavirus, there is one thing that comes up every year during our debates. How are we going to make the Island more affordable in order to keep both our young people and retirees here, but at the same time, not overdevelop our valuable open spaces? It’s time to stop talking about it and start doing something about it. A closer eye needs to be kept on developers who promise affordable housing but are completely out of touch regarding what wage earners can actually afford. What’s the sense of building affordable housing in precious open space if the housing is out of reach financially for most residents?

Most of all, we ask our leaders in government to work together, to extend their hands across the aisles. We have seen what divisiveness in the United States has done to our country over the last decade — let’s see people come together against partisanship, now more than ever.

We have one thing in common besides our humanity. Both sides of the aisle are Americans.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Thanksgiving 2020 will surely be remembered by all. Other Thanksgivings blend into each other on the impressionist edges of memory, in a sepia-colored haze. But this one will stand out like a gargoyle, in bas-relief at the center. Never before have we disinvited our children from our homes during this holiday. Never have we set the table for so few. Never have we been urged not to travel to reconnect with our families. Never have we been drilled on the three Ws: wash your hands, watch your social distancing, wear your mask. COVID-19 overhangs our lives.

Nonetheless, for most of us, there is so much to be thankful for, even as we have to push past the anxiety and the upending of our lives the pandemic has caused to remind ourselves of the many ways we can be thankful.

First is for the good health most of us are lucky enough to enjoy: for our own and that of our loved ones. Perhaps, never has good health been viewed as such a blessing as now, as hundreds of thousands fall ill. Even without the coming vaccine, we can work to keep the virus at bay by diligently following the three Ws.

Next is the love we have in our lives that has become so manifestly important to acknowledge and declare. It is that love: for our spouses, our parents, our children, our dearest relatives and friends that is our safety net during these challenging days. We have always been aware of that love but perhaps not so appreciatively as now. The need to connect with them has not been so vital as now. And if we have a warm home and people who live in it with us, and enough to eat each day, how thankful we can be.

We can be thankful for our jobs, if we have them, and if we don’t, for the country we live in that supports us at least partially during our temporary unemployment. And if we are holding on ourselves, we can help others around us through our churches, soup kitchens and donations to our neighbors in need. To help others is a great privilege.

Though I never particularly embraced the computer when it appeared in our daily lives in the 1970s and 1980s, I am thankful for technology. Because of my computer, I can see my children and grandchildren regularly. I even have a place in the house nicknamed the Zoom Room. I can also see my friends, attend meetings, albeit virtually, and learn new subjects if I choose.

I escape from the news and the responsibilities of daily life with movies on Netflix and other streaming services. I still cannot stop marveling at Siri and the ability to find the answers to all sorts of questions by just pushing a button on my cellphone.

I sometimes think of my husband, whose poor sense of direction was legendary in the family, and how he would have loved the GPS. The ability to call someone from this marvelous invention I hold in my hand and tell them I am on my way but will be 15 minutes late or that I need help because I have a flat tire is a commonplace miracle of the 21st century. How lucky we are to be alive in these times, when a vaccine to overcome our version of the black plague can be developed in a matter of months.

Difficult times force us to turn inward and find the resilience to cope. And we can cope, we all can. If we believe in ourselves and have faith that this pandemic will end, which it surely will, we can then build back our lives and our world again. We can give thanks for that inner strength. Governments must help, charities and philanthropies do help, and we can help ourselves and each other. We can take inspiration from the natural world, which goes on in all its seasons of beauty despite periodic upheavals, and thankfully we will too.

Thanksgiving 2021 we will all together sit around the dinner table and profoundly give thanks.

The Town of Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Phil Corso

Smithtown town officials presented its 2021 tentative budget of $107.6 million to residents last week during a virtual public town hall meeting. A budget vote is scheduled for November.

“2020 has certainly been a whirlwind throwing challenges our way that are expected to continue throughout 2021,” Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said during the meeting. “It has made our jobs as municipal managers much more difficult in both overseeing the operating results for 2020 and projecting the budget for 2021.”

He said that early on in the pandemic, the town “weathered the storm” and created adequate reserves to keep things intact and continued to complete advantageous projects including the Lake Avenue Business District, among others. “The economic benefits of these projects will last long into the future, allowing for generations to come benefit greatly,” he said. 

Wehrheim added that this year the town decreased overtime and decided to cut discretionary spending by 15%. 

“If we should experience this again, we can promise you that town board, myself and our town employees will be ready after all the town endures.”

— Ed Wehrheim

The upcoming budget claims it will maintain municipal services while trimming payroll and increasing property taxes on the typical non-village home less than 1%. 

“In 2020, we looked to reducing expenditures by reinventing our own ways of doing business and created new opportunities to make up for the pandemic-related shortfall,” the supervisor said. “This enabled me to deliver a budget it stays within a mandated allowable New York state tax cap limitation this year of 1.5%, which is becoming increasingly more difficult for municipal managers.”

Some highlights included an overall decrease in salaries accounting for a little over $600,000. 

“Due to the retirement incentive we instituted during the pandemic, we did not utilize any fund balance to balance this budget,” he said. “It is a structurally balanced budget.”

Wehrheim said that overall taxes increased by less than 1% with the exception of residents within the St. James water district who experienced a slightly greater increase due to the water mains along Lake Avenue. The Lake Avenue Project cost $8 million, and includes a dry sewer line that officials home could connect to a sewage treatment plant at the Gyrodyne site near the town’s Brookhaven border. 

The 2021 tentative budget meeting broke down expenses by type. The bulk of expenses at 34% goes towards salaries, 30% to contractual agreements, 29% to employee benefits, 5% to debt service and 2% to equipment. 

It also states the Town’s General fund will see an increase of $22.57 for a home assessed at $5,500 or 3.74%. The same residence will see a reduction in their highway taxes of $4.51 or 3.61% for a net increase of $18.06 per residence valued at $5,500 or 2.48% increase. 

Residents not within village boundaries will see taxes increase by $10.48 for a home assessed at $5,500 or 0.81% higher. Wehrheim said no use of fund balance in any of those funds were used to balance the budget.

After officials broke down the plan, residents voiced their concerns. Members from the civic group We Are Smithtown brought up issues surrounding the Lake Avenue Project, the Master Plan and questions involving the town’s School Age Child Care Program. 

The group criticized that the budget seemed to show the town was profiting off of the program with the tentative budget showing revenue exceeded expenses by $548,264 in 2019. However, it shows that the program is expected to operate at a $226,846 loss this year, and that revenue is expected to exceed costs by $100,000 in 2021. 

James Bouklas, president of the group, argued that the Town of Smithtown brings in $1.413 million in revenue for the program each year, yet the budget shows the program’s cost is $828,000 – a profit of almost $600,000 yearly.

“If you look at the cost, you can see it’s pretty comprehensive,” he said. “This is not its own fund, it’s part of the general fund … In my opinion, it’s pretty comprehensive. There’s not a lot of shared services.” 

He added that the group called for an accounting for every dollar coming into the program. “All profits should be refunded to the families of the program,” Bouklas said. 

Patty Stoddard, a Nesconset resident and board member of the group, said this program is essential to working parents and should be accounted for. 

“This is a program that is a lifeline for working parents often work long hours to be able to afford to live in Smithtown and send their kids to excellence,” she said at the meeting. “This is not the first time we’ve addressed issues with this program. It came to our attention earlier this year that many childcare workers in the towns program were earning less than minimum wage. We pressured the town into doing the right thing and the town agreed to increase wages.”

However, Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug said the budget does not break down the program’s cost provided by other town departments including payroll, insurance, accounting and Parks and Recreation. 

“If you add them to the direct costs, would greatly diminish what you’re perceiving to be, quote, a profit,” he said. “We don’t measure profit and losses within a governmental entity. We’re not viewing it as a business per say. We’re not trying to make money off of that, and the fact of the matter is between 2020, because of the diminished revenues, we’re anticipating a loss of $227,000.”

Despite the problems 2020 caused for everyone locally and across the country, Wehrheim said he hopes the town will never have to witness circumstances like this again. 

“If we should experience this again, we can promise you that town board, myself and our town employees will be ready after all the town endures,” he said.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three men in my life, whom I would normally be hugging a lot this third week in July, are missing. Their birthdays line up nicely for a wonderful celebratory period. First comes my youngest grandson, then four days later my oldest son, and then two days after that, my youngest son. This has provided my family an annual occasion to get together with multiple cakes and dinners, noise and fun activities, usually at my home. But in this Year of the Pandemic, it’s not going to happen in yet another instance of how our lives have changed.

The sad news is that we miss each other’s physical presence. The good news is that we live in a digital age. It could be worse. Not only could we not hug each other, we could not even see each other over the many miles of separation. But thanks to Zoom and the other video platforms, there we are, at least in two dimension and we can talk back and forth with only a tiny lag between voice and picture.

Tuesday night my family did even more than that. When my oldest son was asked by his two boys a couple of weeks ago what he wanted for his birthday, he asked for something that they would make rather than buy. They met his request grandly. They pooled their particular talents, along with those of their friends, and created a four-minute full color animated video in which they mentioned many details of their father’s life set to original hip-hop music. It was a highly personal Happy Birthday card, sent through the ether and bathed in love.

For example, the video mentioned their father’s love of sailing — and in the same frame, of fruit. They slyly referred to his disposal of an unwanted shot of beer in the nearest flower pot. They alluded to his passion for tennis — and for peanuts, which he has been known to carry in his pocket on the drive into work. They generously included those who love him the most in the film, and they ended with half a dozen corny jokes that made us all howl.

Needless to say, in joyfully fulfilling their father’s wish, they brought us all together with the requisite laughter and hijinks. My grandsons and their friends, like so many of the young people today, are not working at their day jobs or are working remotely. In a way, this strange new existence made such a present possible because, coupled with the internet, they had the time and resources for such a creative gift. They were able to adapt to our altered existence and flip the messages that typically would have been sent in birthday cards presented at the party to Tuesday night’s video-sharing.

It makes me realize how quickly so many of us have harnessed our new lives. Many meetings and events are now held, in revamped fashion, on the internet. Education, only recently thought of as unusual if taught over the internet, now looks like it has found a home there. Doctors’ visits, requiring an appointment in a professional office, are now being conducted via telemedicine. Shopping, which has been ever creeping onto the internet, has now in just a couple of months become a way of life there — and not just for a book or a patio umbrella but even for food that is routinely delivered.

Will this exclusively two dimensional existence come to an end? Sure it will, perhaps sooner, perhaps later. The virus has been the driver, and whenever humans have figured out how to overcome the contagion, COVID-19 will just be another disease in the annals of medicine. But as far as the internet goes, you can’t put the cork back into the bottle. We will work more remotely, meet more remotely, be entertained more remotely and otherwise permanently embrace convenient exchanges that can be performed digitally.

One thing is for certain, however. Nothing will ever take the place of a hug.

Photo from METRO

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Zooming has become a verb in the same way xeroxing did many years ago. When a product assumes an important role in daily life, the manufacturer’s name sometimes becomes the name for the process. So it was for many years with photocopying. And now, I don’t know about you, but for those of us who are working remotely even part of the week, participating in calls over the Zoom platform is a regular occurrence.

Who ever heard of Zoom before sheltering in place began? Well, maybe I did, but only as a possible growth stock to invest in, and running at $100 a share, it struck me as too expensive to be interesting. When I googled (another such example) the name, it was described as “an American communications technology company headquartered in San Jose, California. It provides videotelephony and online chat services … and is used for teleconferencing, telecommuting, distance education and social relations.” Until I actually went through “joining a meeting,” it had no relevance to my life.

Enter the pandemic and sheltering in place, and we all discovered that unlike some other high tech stuff, Zoom was easy to use and helpful for work and play. We now have departmental meetings and community board meetings via Zoom, and I enjoy weekly rendezvouses with my children and grandchildren. For now, seeing everybody is free.

Like all technical marvels, however, there are positives and negatives in connection with Zoom. After three Zoom meetings, each for two hours, in one day, I found that I was exhausted and feeling out of sorts. The first such day, I just assumed it had little to do with zooming. The next time, with a similar schedule and the same result, made me realize there was a cause-and-effect taking place, but I didn’t understand why.

Then I read, “Why Zoom Is Terrible,” a column in The New York Times by journalist Kate Murphy, that made a lot of sense. Before I share the particulars, I want to rush to say that I don’t think Zoom is terrible. I think it is what it is, like all new inventions that change one’s life: a miracle. However difficult our lives are today, imagine if there were no video conferencing available to us. Even physicians have embraced telemedicine as a substitute for office visits for now, but surely as a way of communicating with remote patients who cannot get to the office in a life-or-death emergency in the future.

There are, however, some drawbacks, as Murphy’s article explains, and we should be aware of them. The way the video images are “digitally encoded and decoded, altered and adjusted, patched and synthesized introduces all kinds of artifacts: blocking, freezing, jerkiness and out-of-sync audio. These disruptions, some below our conscious awareness, confound perception and scramble certain social cues. Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why.”

This explains a lot to me. Just the audio delay alone tends to make me speak more loudly to the screen than I would normally in an unconscious attempt to get my words to the listeners faster and get their responses back more quickly. After six hours of yelling alone, I can feel pretty tired. And when I look at the others on the grid, in a manner reminiscent of the television show, Hollywood Squares, I am not looking them in the eye. There is no eye contact, and often people are actually looking at themselves — checking out their hair and whether their collar is covering their chicken neck.

We are, as the author points out, “exquisitely sensitive to one another’s facial expressions …and [that is] essential to our understanding of one another.” But such subtleties are frozen, smoothed over or delayed on the screen, however hard we might strain to see them, hence our fatigue and even a bit of alienation.

So now you know. And by the way, Zoom is now selling at $164.55 a share. I never bought it.