Here’s the thing about “talks” that were delivered at seminars even before the pandemic hit. The audience — often disingenuously called participants — was irrelevant. The idea was to find a group of people to hold forth to, usually there to be seen rather than to listen, to aid the self-aggrandisement of the panelists. Many of those forced into these events saw in COVID-19 a silver lining, a possible liberation. Unfortunately, they didn’t factor in the “webinar”.
As with all idiotic jargon, the webinar has become ubiquitous. And like other terms in its class — “ideate”, “synergy”, “thought leader” — it has become increasingly devoid of meaning and exponentially annoying. HR departments across companies insist on summoning employees, afraid and uncertain of their economic future in light of the pandemic, to waste their time listening to soliloquies on scintillating topics like “work-life balance when working from home” (there isn’t one). Everyone has a view on how to deal with COVID-19, and it seems like all of them want to summon their colleagues, subordinates, friends and family to watch them hold forth.
Under normal circumstances, back in the days of the seminar, it was easy enough to make an excuse to get out of going. Now, as people are more or less housebound, honesty seems like the only recourse. Yet, mild dishonesty — the white lies that form the bedrock of excuses — are what keep the fabric of society, and social class, intact. After all, asking inane questions as people ideate around creating synergies is the essence of networking. But there are too many virtual panels and meetings proliferating and there are much better things to binge-watch on the internet than self-styled “thought leaders”. The world is in crisis. Next time you’re asked to sign in to a webinar, feel free to say no.
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