The Cats and Dogs and Pigs of Zoom


Cats with no concern for cinematography, Dogs, gangly, sprawled, a tangle of limbs and mouths, uncontainable within the frame. A hoisted guinea pig is just a brief white void with eyes. One moggy passes across the foreground of one square just before another trots along the background of another square and we might pretend, for a moment, that it is the same cat performing a merry teleportation trick in an effort to reclaim human attention. An unmuted person offers an opinion which is answered first by the yaps of their dog who believe some sort of conversation has begun. Why would it think otherwise? There's no-one else around. 

OK, so many of us are quite royally sick of Zoom by now, but we can't deny that it has served us pretty well these past months. And the invasion of our animals into our little mise-en-scenes is never going to not be delightful. Perhaps such small furry moments have helped us paste over some of the cracks of our physical disconnection, and that counts for something. Yesterday's meeting was a convergence of the Neurodiversity Reading Group which I have recently joined. This is a monthly gathering of mostly early career academics and other interested folks, which began in physical form last year in London but had to be ported online, like so many other things, once we'd finally caught up with the pandemic. This was to the great advantage of myself and other non-London researchers in the field who were now able to join in discussions, and I've made a few exciting connections as a direct result.

We must not forget the access advantages we've gained as a result of this circumstance. Of course, all the tech was already there and already being used, but a sudden universality of it may well prove a shot-in-the-arm for future event attendance possibilities. I beamed in to the Hay Festival for the first time ever this year and the chat window was awash with flags from all over the world. I've performed at a couple of spoken word nights through it, and recently spent an brilliantly diverting hour in the company of a new university student who wanted to chat to me about my research. She's autistic and supremely excited about autistic possibility. Pre-lockdown I might have kept our exchange to email, or awkwardly met somewhere on campus. In the end, Zoom was perfect. We talked about One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Chewing Gum and how and where and what our arts should capture of neurodivergence. At the end we were both in our safest and most comfortable spaces. It just worked. Old habits, like the Die Hard franchise, die hard, so maybe all this will dissipate like a moth corpse when we finally get the all-clear to be smushed back together. But we're learning a new skill here and its may well be persisting long enough for it to become a useful habit.

Other Zoom-based highlights have included a few delightful games of Among Us with dear friends, the delivery of two successful creative writing workshops with more in the pipeline, and a triumphant return to Tabletop RPG with my favourite queer nerds. We've ploughed our way in to a game called Beam Saber in which we're roleplaying as black ops mech pilots for a shady corporatocracy. We're currently investigating the disappearance of a spacestation in a distant sector known only for asteroid mining. We've found the station, we've boarded, and we've got ourselves caught up in an extremely weird temporal hijink. My character, rookie Sufferance Mallow, has gone from chirpy and excitable to disturbed and vengeful in a few bad throws of the dice. It's intense. But, so far, we've collectively managed to keep our cyborg dog companion Archer alive. For now.

There was much anxiety in the early days of tech ubiquity that we were heading into some sort of Matrix-style cyborgian assimilation, that the internet and AI were going to combine forces and overwhelm us. Here we all are now, caught in our boxes, forgetting to unmute then laughing about it, our little slices of the world exposed for others to see. Meanwhile, on other tabs, news feeds update, social media auto-refreshes, and everything is simultaneously real and unreal. Have we become the parentless cyborg hybrids? Are we officially part-machine, permanently partial, eternally uploaded and cloud-stored and #exposed? Not really, I don't think. Not deep down, where it matters. We've maintained a cynical strain as we've indoctrinated ourselves and we're painfully conscious of what this digital era is doing to us, even if we have been a bit slow to catch up. Perhaps it is more a hope than prediction, but I think we're turning a corner with it. We're not cyborgs and we never will be. We're animals. And we'll always find ways to glide beyond the frames we've built for ourselves. 

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