A short history of my love of getting and sending mail
My fondness for correspondence began at primary school in my English writing class. At the beginning of the term, each student was assigned a pen pal from another “sister” school abroad in the same age group. Students addressed their letters to their peers using the schools’ addresses, and at the end of the term both students had to fill a form to indicate if they would like to continue their correspondence privately, along with parental consent.
As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the intention of this component and the brilliance of its simplicity. It helped young students apply skills that went beyond writing itself, including presentation (drawing personal letterheads, for example) and conversation (appropriate conversation topics were also taught at my strict and old-fashioned school). This correspondence portion of the class also required students to adhere to the “publishing” schedule, so there was a disciplinary aspect to this fun activity. I suspect this gave students as they grew older the confidence to network and establish a connection with strangers in various professional and social settings.
I freaking love mail
At present, the number of personal correspondence I receive by mail is minimal, usually around Christmas and my birthday. I have two friends who still exchange letters with me, but I’m hoping that there will be a gradual return to written personal correspondence that falls outside the digital sphere. I say this fully aware of the irony of my profession as a digital communications and marketing expert. It is precisely because of my study of the science of attention and virtual limitations of affection that I appreciate physical communiques. It takes time to think about what one could write that is insightful, personal, and genuine. To me, emails and texts, however personal they may be, fail at stirring the same emotion that the sight of a handwritten and personal scribble may cause.
I told you all this because
For the last few years, I’ve been sending friends and colleagues Christmas cards that carry my illustrations and often have a calendar at the back. For the most part, the illustrations highlight something memorable from the passing year, or are simply holiday themed.
So for the 2021 card
I started with an illustration of a cottage nestled in a wintery scene. The idea was to share something uplifting. As I was preparing to ship it off to the printers, I realized that it did not acknowledge momentous disruptions of 2020. So I went back to the drawing board (haha) to illustrate something that reflected shared experiences and poked fun of the one thing we had all come to love and loathe at once: ZOOM!
I give you the year in review illustration of 2020: Woodland creatures on a Zoom call.
You know these people
The illustration features many Zoom user stereotypes. Starting at the top with the hedgehog and going clockwise towards centre, I give you:
The multitasker (hedgehog)
This user is listening attentively and engaging, but has a side project on the go (usually knitting). Good on them for doing two things at once and pulling it off with no disrespect. You find yourself busy trying to make out the titles of the books in their backgrounds.
The one always late to the call
There is always that one friend or colleague who never joins a call on time, or hasn’t accepted the reality of needing a high-speed connection. They’ve missed half the call, but that’s okay, A for eventually showing up.
The “on a walk/still figuring this out” (owl)
This close talker is joining the call while walking, offering you a chance to experience mild nausea as you watch them bop up and down on screen. They may also be the friend who doesn’t pay attention to the camera angle, and occasionally reminds everyone that they’re still “getting used to all this.” Consider yourself lucky if you’re not staring at their nostrils the entire time.
The distant participants (deer and rabbit)
This lot is likely preparing dinner, ironing, or busy with some other chore. Their webcam is at a fixed position, so for the most part you find yourself watching either a second-rate reality show featuring arguments about cooking instructions or staring into a well-decorated room.
The bored one (fox)
This is your friend who doesn’t want to decline the call because they want to maintain the connection, but are exhausted/disinterested in whatever y’all are discussing. They sit there, smiling and nodding, but you know they’re completely checked out and that’s okay with everyone.
The serial virtual background artist (moose)
Green screens are a revelation to this one. They can’t believe the AMAZING things you can do with virtual backgrounds, and as such, take every opportunity to change their Zoom background to better reflect the mood/season/or artistic flair. Some of their limbs vanish when they move, and you’re not entirely sure if the lower part of their body is clothed. #PantsOptional
The elderly couple still figuring out how this all works (otter and beaver)
“Are we connected? Can you hear us?”
This couple needs to find their glasses first to join the call and see who’s on screen. They will spend a few minutes looking for the earphones their grandkids bought them so they can “call you on the camera.” It’s smooth sailing for everyone after the “tech support” portion is done. They have the latest info on the pandemic’s numbers, and will share with you newly-acquired “facts” that were shared by their Facebook friends.
The chatterbox on mute (squirrel)
This one is invested completely in the conversation and has many opinions to offer… if they can only remember to unmute themselves. 90% of the interaction with them focuses on reminding them to “please unmute” and using a broad range of hand gestures to indicate “we can’t hear you!”
The all-in speaker (raccoon)
This one is talking to you just like they would in person: with their entire body. Their hands are telling half the story, their emotions and voice fluctuations handle the rest. They’re occupying the entire Zoom square and fully command your attention. Good on them, they’ve mastered this digital medium.
I’ll leave the double (triple?) entendre tagline for you to decipher.