Unlike almost every other person on Earth, I also prefer Zoom parties to regular parties. At many in-person parties, I drink too much because I’m uncomfortable and then have to leave early because I’m too uncomfortable and too drunk. By contrast, I find that Zoom parties offer just the right amount of stimulation. I will often put on a big group Zoom and do other things, such as fold laundry or cook. I don’t feel the urge to drink, or even participate much, because it’s really just me and a computer. This blending of regular chores and socializing makes me think of what the pioneer days must have been like, with people catching up while quilting or whatever. Except Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t have Zoom. Lucky us!
Like Zoom work, Zoom socializing can be easier for socially anxious people, Hendriksen told me. Real parties are a labyrinth of confusing decisions and expectations. You have to navigate “Who am I going to go talk to now? Have I been talking to them for too long? Should I go to the bathroom now?” Hendriksen said. “Whereas with Zoom, there’s a lot more structure. Really only one person can talk at a time. Everybody’s laid out in this nice Brady Bunch grid. You can turn your camera off and just put ‘BRB’ in the chat. If we increase the structure, we can lower the uncertainty, and therefore lower our anxiety.”
In addition to being a fine alternative to real life, Zoom has, for me, conferred benefits over and above in-person gatherings. My book came out last April, amid the throes of the initial pandemic freak-out. Although I was at first frustrated that I wouldn’t get the full “book-tour experience,” my virtual book tour was more fun and more accessible. More people were willing to sign in to Zoom on a pandemic Tuesday than were willing to trudge to a random D.C. bookstore in the April rain. And because the book talks were so easy, I was able to do more of them—on bookstore websites, on Instagram, on YouTube, and, yes, on Zoom.
Book clubs and other get-togethers are also more geographically inclusive when they’re online. Through Zoom, I’ve caught up with friends who live in other cities, whom I have not been able to visit. The only awkward part of a Zoom chat is figuring out how to end it. But you have to do that when you’re talking on the phone, anyway. Some people have tried “I have to go make dinner/go for my little walk/finish up some work,” but I recommend the genteelly passive-aggressive “I should let you go.” I learned this while living in the South and have yet to find a better alternative.
All the experts I spoke with said that Zoom will continue to play a role in our lives, but probably a smaller one than it has this past year. “Far from getting tired of [working from home], the average American actually seems to be getting used to it and increasing their desire to continue to work from home post-pandemic,” the Stanford University economist Nick Bloom told me via email. About 46 percent of workers would like to continue working from home forever, according to research from ZipRecruiter.