The Power & Limits Of Zoom


We live in a virtual world these days.
We stare at devices, attend Zoom meetings, FaceTime relatives, share our screens and curse under our breath when our Internet freezes up mid-sentence.

Welcome to life in 2020.

Recently, I was a guest lecturer for a real estate class at Temple University.
The 22 students were tiny images on my screen, dressed in hoodies and Temple sweat shirts. I tried to make the class interactive and while I had fun,  it felt more than a little surreal.
Yes the technology is incredible, but it still feels detached and somewhat cold. I miss being with people.

I’ve done a lot of public speaking in my life and I’ve always been able to “read” the room. I can feel when I’m connecting or when I’m bombing. I’ve done both. You can feel it.
But try as I might, I couldn’t figure out whether my talk on redevelopment, cities and placemaking pre and post pandemic was landing or not.

For example, Jacob wore a smile through the whole class—was he into what I was talking about or was he enjoying music on his ear buds? Who knows.

Mercy asked great questions so I guess she was listening and getting something from the conversation.
I saw a few pets drift by the screen and heard at least one bird screech.

I guess we should be thankful for the technology, it’s enabled us to stay in touch during this long, weird and difficult season of Covid. I can’t imagine how much worse this would be if we didn’t have these tools.

When I was in the hospital during my summer battle with Covid, all I had was my phone.

That little thing connected me to family and friends and the outside world.
Thank goodness, because I was isolated physically from my loved ones for 39 very long days.

My wife celebrated a birthday when I was at Bethesda and the nurses were kind enough to bring me an iPad so I could wish her a happy birthday and see her face. I was overwhelmed when I saw Diane. While it wasn’t the real thing, it was close enough and seeing her brought a flood of emotions.

Of course, she got to see me too and let’s just say I wasn’t looking my best. She didn’t seem to mind. That’s love.

The magic of Zoom has also brought me closer to my childhood friends who are spread out from California to Vermont these days.
Thanks to my friend Dave in Milwaukee, who has taken the lead in this effort, every other Wednesday night I grab a drink and settle in front of my computer and spend 90 minutes with the guys who have shaped my life in countless ways.

While I have remained in touch with most of them for over 45 years now (wow) it was always intermittent and isolated. We took a few guys trips in the 90s but the commitments of adulthood washed away those gatherings and the years flew by. The older you get, the faster they go.

So I would speak to the guys here and there, see others if they visited Florida and sadly lost touch with two or three others.

Now because of Dave’s efforts, we are in regular touch and the guys who drifted are back on the calls and in each other’s lives.

Seeing their faces makes me realize how much I treasure those friendships and how important we have been to each other through the years and miles.
We know each other’s parents and siblings, remember our early girlfriends and can talk about favorite teachers, memorable summers and the special haunts of our past.
It’s great. Just great.

So in a sense technology can make us closer just as easily as it can drive us apart if we abuse the tools we’ve been given.

Still, if I had my choice, I would always opt for the in-person experience.

There are so many people that I have missed during this time of quarantining, social distancing and remote working.
I miss the gatherings that Delray was once so famous for and the ability to get together with a large group.

Zoom happy hours are fine— but not quite the same. They just aren’t.Will behaviors change forever after this nightmare ends?

Yes and no, is my best guess.
Yes, we will continue to attend Zoom meetings rather than travel, yes telemedicine is here to stay and this situation may forever alter how we see movies (that trend was underway pre-coronavirus).

But I think people will still want to work with other people in offices and that there will be pent up demand for live entertainment and experiences such as festivals and sports.
We are social creatures, we like other people and while screens are cool, nothing beats the real world. Nothing.


  1. Patti Weaver says

    I truly enjoy your site for the area here. I’ve lived in many cities here in palm beach county over 37 years. Delray Beach rocks and rolls as a community of togetherness. Yes the old times have led to new times. Thank you for your contribution. And may you be well in recovery of covid.

  2. Jeff, a very well summarized realty: I also think many zoom conferences and webinars are here to stay, but I do miss the personal connection: will it ever be the same? handshakes? hugging everybody? I do think we get to know each other more, I see the picture and the name, next time at a networking event I will recognize people with their names!
    I am teaching many classes on zoom, and I share the same experience, the connection I so much enjoy with the students is missing on zoom, no matter how hard you try. Stay healthy!

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