The novel coronavirus pandemic has transformed Zoom, the online meeting app, from a business tool into a party facilitator. Bereft of opportunities to drink and dine in each other’s homes or at the local pub or fancy restaurant, friends and families are filling up Zoom’s rows of on-screen boxes in an urgent attempt to reclaim socializing in a socially distanced world.

It is certainly better than nothing, but Zoom does not offer the same social dynamics as a physical get-together. At a real party, there are ways to escape dull conversations or to gossip in the corner with just one person or wander off to the bathroom without announcing it or to just get silly without everyone in the room watching and judging. With Zoom, there is no escape.

It can be exhausting paying dutiful attention to everyone. (At a real party, a person can go get a drink refill and check out the hidden corners of the host’s house.) On Zoom, it is also impossible not to be distracted by that friend who seems to be sitting in a dark closet or the one whose computer is angled to give a clinical view of his nostrils. (Don’t they know they are on TV?) Worst of all is being constantly reminded of physical imperfections by the image of yourself on the screen. (When did my neck start looking like that?)

For now, Zoom is the best we’ve got, but it will never replicate the real thing. We need hugs and crowded rooms and clinking glasses and dancing on the table and everyone talking at once. We need the messiness, embarrassments and joys of being close to our fellow human beings – even the slightly obnoxious but entertaining ones.

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