The vid-confs drinking game: Down a shot of brandy every time someone titters 'Sorry, I was on mute'

Take your brain to another dimension- sion- sion... Pay close attention

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? I am out of my head. It’s that Zoom fatigue that I keep reading about.

Zoom fatigue is a real thing. It leaves you feeling uncertain on your feet and with a propensity to giggle about nothing in particular. At least, these are my Zoom fatigue symptoms. What do you expect if I have to down a shot of brandy every time someone says "Sorry, I was on mute"?

My symptoms worsened more recently after I extended the rules of the game to cover additional, specific qualifying circumstances. For example, I will take another blast from the bottle if a participant says (and the wording must be exact): "It's lovely to see all your faces." This isn't too serious as it will be said just the once per meeting, but then I have to knock back three drinks in rapid succession if I hear the follow-up: "It's like Celebrity Squares!"

  • Another drink when a participant picks up their device and takes it into the kitchen; two drinks if it's the bathroom.
  • Another drink when a participant says they can't find the 'raise a hand' button.
  • Another drink when that same participant says they don't know how to lower their hand again.

The concluding cognac of any virtual meeting is the toughest. This involves picking any onscreen communicant at random at the close of the meeting, and at the very moment they say their final "goodbye", I begin to pour whatever's left in the bottle into a tall tumbler. I only stop pouring when they have eventually found the "Quit meeting" button, some 10-15 seconds later.

Is it any wonder that I stumble about, feeling as if I'm in another dimension?

Of course, there could be another explanation for this feeling: I might actually be in another dimension. Last weekend, boffins at the Large Hadron Collider were threatening to flick that notorious switch for punching our way into parallel universes. Maybe they did and maybe it worked. After a day of Zoom, Skype and Google Meet yesterday, armed with nothing but sugar-roasted peanuts and a bottle of supermarket rum, I certainly experienced a sensation of falling into a black hole.

As with all such event horizon expanse stargate dark matter, it’s not what we allow from our reality to seep out into that other dimension that bothers me so much as what leaks into ours from beyond. Given how 2020 has gone so far, it won't be cool robots or ancient Egyptians. It'll be an overacting slime monster with multiple wriggly appendages, cackling wicked taunts such as "You humans are such easy prey", "I’ll tear your soul apart" and "Unmute yourself! Go on, unmute yourself!"

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The alternative dimension that I have slipped into is not so dramatic. There are no fireworks, flashing lights or dry ice effects, and most importantly for the future of my recently restored weekly Friday columns at The Register, no flying Piranha eels. The difference is subtler than that. For example, in this wacko parallel world I find myself in, the Chinese are spying on American children through Xplora smartwatches.

The Xplora 4 has app-tracking functions for worrisome parents and accommodates a SIM card to allow youngsters to do like ET. But a Norwegian security firm called Mnemonic says it has found features in the smartphone's firmware that would allow an incoming encrypted SMS message to trigger a memory dump snapshot, take photos and record audio.

You might argue the toss over how difficult such a backdoor would be to exploit in the wild. Xplora has issued a patch while those johnnies at Mnemonic insist that it wasn't an unfortunate vulnerability that needed patching but a deliberately coded feature set "with function names that include 'remote snapshot', 'send location' and 'wiretap'."

Me, I'm just fascinated that a developer thought little wrists were perfect vehicles for covert surveillance. In this alternative dimension, Spy Kids isn’t just a movie.

I have also discovered that in this dimension, countryside villages have been forced to install signs to warn visitors they may suffer an audible experience akin to that of being in a countryside village. One can only imagine a townie's terror when hearing the sounds of a church bell for the first time; a cockerel crowing; a cow farting; or the village idiot applying his mayoral stamp to a decree that signs should be put up warning visitors about the din.

In this dimension, even fish leather is a thing. Proponents say fish skin tanning is a sustainable industry. No doubt when demand rises, it's also quite easy to scale up.

Disappointingly, nobody laughed at that in this dimension either.

Clearly I need to get myself beach fit for the challenges of my new weird slice of the multiverse. Here, you may not be surprised to learn, apocalypse survival training (AST) is available as an app.

AST is not an exercise programme, it's "a full cast 3D binaural audio drama in which you are the main character, with the fate of millions depending upon your ability to stay alive. Your personal trainer and cheerleader Skyler acts as your eyes and ears as he guides you through an alien invasion you must not only survive, but also bring to an end."

Foxing those darn aliens involves lots of running, yoga stretching and bodyweight circuits, apparently, and who am I to disagree? My own experience of alien invasions is limited to removing slugs from the kitchen that my cat keeps bringing in. At least now I know that while buildings around me explode into flame and a haunting "Aloo! Aloo!" echoes across the cityscape – curiously reminding me of a holiday weekend I once spent in a French countryside village – I can fend off the alien hordes with set of burpies and tree pose before running away like fuck.

Ah, my parallel universe has just closed all the bars and re-introduced a curfew. I'm not sure my AST training is going to help, and already I can feel my Zoom fatigue coming on.

Pass the scotch, would you?

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He does not condone alcohol abuse. Besides, shouting derogatory names at a bottle of wine gets you nowhere. Nor is he suffering from Zoom fatigue: he prefers remote conferencing to in-person meetings at the moment because he says it’s lovely to see all his colleague’s faces. In fact, he says it’s like Celebrity Squares. More of this at Autosave is for wimps and infrequently on Twitter at @alidabbs

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