“Happiness [is] only real when shared” - Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Yesterday was our postponed Zoom cooking class - and here we all are, zooming away and at this point making that Apple brown Betty. Which was delicious by the way - below are photos of my and the granddaughters' efforts. The grandsons' picture is either non-existent or not yet in.
As usual it was a somewhat chaotic session. The girls had already marinaded their chicken, so the rest of us had to catch up on that, there were minor sibling disputes along the way and everybody talked over everybody else, or there was noise in the background from other members of the family, so that instructions sometimes had to be repeated several times. But at least this time I used my laptop and I could direct the view rather more efficiently so that they could all see what I was doing - if they cared to look - which they mostly didn't I have to say. The results for our Egyptian lemon chicken, with Greek roast potatoes, followed by that lovely pudding were worth the effort though - girls on the left, boys on the right and me below. And as you can see we all approached the chicken in different ways - with the boys going for their favourite wrap version. For this particular dish - a hugely simple Robert Carrier recipe is apparently one of their favourite meals.
It's interesting and simultaneously innovative and conservative in how they evolved this recipe from my version - well Carrier's version - marinaded large pieces of chicken, to smaller pieces which are eaten in a wrap with rice. And interesting too, that they clung to their now established way of eating it. Where did the potatoes fit in one wonders? Interesting too that the girls also chose to cut the chicken into smaller pieces.
But the real thing about the whole exercise is how much they enjoy it and how much they look forward to it. And I too of course. And what a lot of fun it is. We had to extend to three Zoom sessions to complete the process.
They concentrate really hard on what they are doing and take enormous pleasure, I am told, in having produced a meal all on their own, but they also have fun along the way, and really love catching up with their cousins, which they would not otherwise do on such a regular basis. Catch ups tend to be a school holidays activity these days, as they live on different sides of Melbourne to each other. Not very far away, but far enough and then there's also the complications of sporting activities that take up a lot of time. And of course, for the grandparents it's a wonderful opportunity to see them.
Zoom (and its ilk - although Zoom seems to have emerged the winner) has made this more regular socialisation possible. It's a wonderful thing. We did not have these cooking classes before Melbourne's lockdown sagas. It was dropped for a while, but has been reinstated to everyone's delight as a weekly thing. The parents probably get a bit of time out and they also have the bonus of their children learning that it's not that hard to cook. And yes Zoom is not perfect - I mean look at the tiny image the boys are working with - but still as many commentators have said, it is almost living up to what the original internet's purpose was - to bring people together.
I'm particularly conscious of Zoom this week because it's a bit of a Zoom week. My two book groups have meetings this week. One was yesterday and Zoom was a bonus in some ways there too, as one of our members who is now somewhat frail and therefore does not make the journey to our physical meetings that often, was able to join us. Tomorrow's meeting too will enable us to include one of our members who is currently working up in Darwin.
Of course it really is not as good as meeting face to face. Long papers have been written on the topic and before long there will be PhDs written I have no doubt. And of course Zoom has made a lot of money out of this and of course there are security issues. But for me that's a bit like saying there is a very small risk to having the Astra Zeneca vaccine. The benefits far outweigh the risks it seems to me. And yes of course it's not fair - the poor have no access to the technology and I gather that in the business world it can lead to increased stress and anxiety. But it has also been fertile ground for people to laugh and make fun of our embarrassments about not really knowing what we are doing, and what we look like. It's unnerving looking at yourself for so long. At least with the cooking class I now have the computer camera pointed at the kitchen bench and not at me. But isn't it also yet another example of human adaptation to circumstance?
Which leads to a very minor and potted history of Zoom and its founder Eric Yuan. Born in 1970, in China, he lived and worked there until 1997, when inspired by a Bill Gates speech in Japan, he moved to America (after nine attempts at a visa), specifically to Silicon Valley in California. Initially he worked for a company called WebEx, and then for Cisco which had bought WebEx. Rising through the ranks there, in 2011 he pitched an early version of Zoom to Cisco but it was rejected, as something entering an already overcrowded market. So Yuan left and set up his own company, launching Zoom in 2013 - their first customer being Stanford University. Its success was granted 'unicorn' status in 2017 and in 2019 it became profitable and launched on the US stock exchange.
He is now of course a multi-billionaire - was already before COVID, but COVID has, of course, boosted Zoom's (and Yuan's) fortunes by many multiples. he now owns just 22% of the company I believe - more than enough. Lots of the development work and data storage is still done in China, but mostly in the US (not just California), India and Singapore.
It certainly has changed our world and enabled business, education and other large organisations to keep functioning. Even hospitality has used it to its advantage. So should we worry when somebody has a really, really good idea, works hard to develop it and makes a fortune? Personally I don't think so although it would be nice if more of them (and there are, of course, notable exceptions - particularly in America) used their vast fortunes to help remedy some of the world's major problems.
Anyway in spite of the supremely amateurish way we run our cooking classes, and the complete disorganisation really - at the end we get a lovely meal and a wonderful face to face experience as well. Which we wouldn't have had without Zoom. And Apple, and co., and the internet, and the Telcos ... Not to mention Robert Carrier - who provided the dessert recipe too.