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Muting people: A 21st-century superpower

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Dec 03, 2020 9:35 pm

Think of me as your old-world kind of dude. When, for some reason, I feel you’re not worth the time of day, I simply turn my back and consume my swig of either coffee or bourbon.

I do the same during corporate meetings, more so when the conversation strays from the latest slump in sales revenue to why Duterte is the greatest goofball who ever walked the earth. If I had a button to mute every dude and dudette who spewed trash like that, I’d probably be rich selling them at P1 per piece online.

I have to admit, I’m not particularly fond of listening to other people. One reason I despise corporate meetings. Some of my colleagues’ ideas make me cringy. Being an unico hijo, I prefer being by my lonesome 24/7. Small talk unnerves me; big ones give me hives. Bragging about your latest coffeemaker or your new car makes me want to barf.

As a hapless introvert with a strong preference for isolation (14-day quarantine doesn’t count), I’m more inclined to sit in a corner and bury my face between the pages of a book on Egyptian mummification. Which is why I tell friends and family never to invite me to parties. Unless they’re dying to see me drag a corpse as a conversation piece.

And then the pandemic arrived and changed everything. When in 2019 B.C. (before COVID) I’d spend most days struggling to survive corporate meetings, interviews, writers’ conferences, and those much-awaited albeit wearisome university lectures, today, video chat is the way to go.

No need to go full on suit and tie and shoes. Deodorants are passé. One doesn’t even have to worry about holes in their socks. Upper body threads are enough to keep you from being tracked by Pornhub. I still maintain, though, that brushing one’s teeth before Zoom meeting is essential. You don’t want last night’s dinner to go high definition.

No one told me that the host of Zoom meetings possesses a particular superpower: to mute anyone he so chooses. For years, I wished that humanity would invent something like this.

But allow me to clear the air of any misconception: I still fancy face-to-face interactions. Nothing beats hearing someone’s flawed pronunciation or body language writhing from bone-deep grammatical errors. I’m a fan of fist-bumps, high fives, and the occasional beso-beso. Gum-exposing laughter that doesn’t suffer from a sporadic 2.2 Mbps upload makes for really good schadenfreude.

However, the pandemic has put not only technology but our patience to the test. My first Zoom experience drove me to my first bout with post-traumatic stress disorder. I was about to deliver a lecture on Journalism Ethics to college studes when suddenly no one can hear me from the other side.

I panicked. My first suspicion was that mainland Chinese hackers were on to me, stalked my IP address and nuked it. As a part-time conspiracy theorist, any unintended consequence leads me to think I’m being trolled.

But that soupçon of a hunch soon turned to a sigh when, in the nick of time, the host sent me this message: “You’re on mute, sir. Please click the button on your screen”. Talk about another episode of Mr. Bean.

Of course, no one told me that the host of Zoom meetings possesses a particular superpower: to mute anyone he so chooses. For years, I wished that humanity would invent something like this, what with our brave excursions to the moon and back. Finally, technology has created something that we can all be proud of aside from a metal monolith.

Sad part is, I have yet to sit as host of a Zoom meeting. Having been stuck in our home for the last 300 days or so since lockdown did little to prod me to exercise that superpower. Imagine muting the boss at that very moment where he’d scream, “You’re fired!” It would’ve been worth the retrenchment.

But all things considered, I know I’ll get my chance one of these days.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the word “unmute” was included as one of several of Oxford Dictionary’s words of the year. As a journalist and advocate of freedom of speech, expression, and of the press, between the words “unmute” and “monolith,” you know where I’d side.

Unless, of course, I’m the one doing the muting.