Yesterday, at dance class, we broke into spontaneous applause. You know how sometimes, when someone’s internet connection falters during an online class, the layout suddenly changes? And if you’re completely unused to anything technological, what are you supposed to do?
Yesterday, our dance teacher Mythili Mami clicked those three vertical dots, found and clicked ‘change layout’, and chose a tiled layout. We all roared with appreciation and clapped. To understand the import of what she achieved and why we were so excited, here’s a little background.
My teacher uses nothing technological. She still uses audio cassettes, as far as she can, rather than CDs — because CDs are so difficult to rewind and fast-forward on a player (rather than a computer).
She is uncomfortable with a smart phone. Swiping is strange to her, and impossible if your hands are wet. Touching requires too much precision, plus you don’t get a second chance because everything just disappears if you touch the wrong thing. Good old buttons, ideally on a landline, work best.
Now, cut to 2020, when, after teaching dance for nearly 50 years, she needs to move online. She didn’t want to get into this whole online business, so she decided to wait it out. I mean, things would go back to normal, right?
But then, from section 144, we went into a three-week lockdown. Mythili Mami began to get restless. She’s never been disconnected from dance class for so long.
So she asked us to practise and then send her videos. She began to devote some time each day to watching our videos so that she could call and give us feedback over the phone.
Sounds fine as a stop-gap measure, right?
The problem is that with over 50 girls at various levels in dance class, she began to spend all day every day on the phone. Finally, she gave in.
Oh, well. All right.
Mythili Mami’s husband, whom all of us call Uncle, is quite comfortable with technology. He is definitely much more comfortable than anyone else I know in their 80s. With his support, Mami ventured into the virtual world with just a few of us to test the waters. Uncle and I spent ages on the phone, discussing Google Meets, links, camera settings, audio settings … While my teacher waited and watched, getting more and more daunted by the whole idea of seeing us online.
Once Uncle was comfortable enough with things, he began to teach Mami. I’ll quote what she explained to me, “First, I have to switch this on. There will be a light. Then, I have to press this button. I will see round-round-round on the screen. Then I have to take my mouse here, it should say ‘****’ [their internet connection]. Again, it goes round-round-round. Then we’re ready.”
Soon, Mami progressed to moving the mouse and clicking the cross at the end of the class. Her complaint?
“That mouse? It keeps running everywhere, and I have to go running after it. I take it here, it runs somewhere else, and I have to hunt it down again.”
A quick aside
For strangers who read this blog, a disclaimer – everything I write here is written with great affection, nothing less than that. I think technology is impossible for older people in so many ways, and I promise, I’m very, very patient when I explain how to use something.
At the beginning of this brave new venture, when I spent forty minutes helping Uncle share his screen and change his audio settings, my husband assured me that I could set up a website – varshaseshanbestitsupport (dot) com. I really am endlessly patient.
Back to the Story
And yet, online classes, like so many other dance-related things, make for such wonderful stories and eventually, such hilarious memories! Here are a few things that come to mind.
Anyone who does dance or music online would know how frustrating a lag is.
Why don’t you all start together?
All of you, start with my beat!
One-two-three start! Again, you’re late.
Now again she’s stopped.
Why do you stop in the middle?
We’ve overcome that hurdle, somehow.
Of course, that’s just one tiny obstacle. There are hundreds more, especially now that we have class with all the littler ones too. My teacher doesn’t come for those yet; it’s too confusing. Three of us senior students handle them, conducting simultaneous online classes for three different groups.
Here’s what my teacher wants to know:
“If two of you are conducting class at the same time with different children, why can’t some children go to the other room just for some time?”
Now you try explaining how much time it takes to move from one room to another – online.
Codes and the Internet
Uncle has his own delightful questions, which make me realise how much we, who are comfortable with technology, take for granted.
“Okay, Varsha, I want to ask you. In this code that you have for Google Meet, you type [read this slowly to get the feel of it] https, colon, slash, again slash, meet (dot) google (dot) com. That is fine. After that, how do you decide what letters of the alphabet to put in the code?”
A related experiment to try out: explain over a phone-call to someone (ideally over 60) how to set up hotspot. Enjoy your day, for that’s how long it will take.
Why are you standing there?
Back to my teacher, and all the little things that make online classes such a deal: the irritation of not being able to choose who stands where. The aesthetic eye tells you that haphazard arrangements – the shortest one next to the tallest, anyone anyhow – are not appealing. And my teacher is a perfectionist. These things bother her. When we stand wherever we like, or rather, wherever Google Meets likes, completely disregarding who dances well with whom, who knows the piece well, who is unsure … Argh!
“Why are you standing in that corner when you are so tall? You should move somewhere else.”
It took me a while to understand this one.
Have you noticed that at the top right corner of a Google Meets screen, we have tiny icons for chatting, the clock, and all of that? They don’t move. You can’t move them. Scroll up and have a look if you’ve never noticed them either. This is an old screenshot, so the time isn’t there yet. But all these things are stuck there, on someone’s face, if we have too many dancers.
And so, a related question, when we have three (or more) rows of dancers. “Why has she come with a big clock on her face?”
When internet connections falter and someone leaves a call and comes back, the tiles automatically rearrange themselves, making things even more bewildering.
“In these online classes, you girls keep moving from one place to another. I wish you would stay in one place. I have to keep searching, searching, searching … One minute you’re here; the next minute you jump somewhere else! And I have to hunt, where did she go? Where did she go?“
Changing the Layout
You can’t customise who goes where, but when the tiled layout changes to one one of the others …!
“Why did all of you go and stand on the side? Only Varsha is there in the centre. The rest of you are standing in line on the right.”
So, we tried to explain to Mami how to change the layout.
“Do you see the three vertical dots in the bottom right corner?” I asked.
The answer was no. Not really, it was just utter bewilderment.
There’s too much information on a screen, so guiding the eyes there is a good idea. “At the bottom of your screen, do you see a white bar?”
Great. “On the left, it says Dance Class …”
“Then, we have a mic, a receiver and a video camera …?”
And by now, I’ve lost my dance teacher.
“Mami, what do you see on your screen? You tell me.”
Okay, just to remind you of how it looks, here’s an image:
Do you see what I see? Excellent.
Here’s what my teacher sees.
“First it says Dance Class with Mami on Thursday.”
“Then something is pointing up.” (That’s when I realised, oh yes, look up! It’s dance class with Mami on Thursday!)
“Correct. After that?”
“There is a lot of white space and then something that looks like an ice-cream.”
“Then, there’s something red. I cannot understand what it is.”
“Then there’s a dabba with a small … I don’t know …”
Do you see how inadequate my instructions were when I spoke of a mic, a receiver and a video camera?
We’re full of instructions, all the time, confusing instructions.
“Mami, please look at the camera, not at us. We can’t see your expression.”
“Please move your screen forward. No, no, no, not the monitor. The laptop screen.”
“Please push your screen back.”
“Please keep singing, we can hear you.”
“Please continue the thaalam, don’t follow us!”
And finally, cut to yesterday. When my teacher was able to chase the mouse (it didn’t run away), direct it to the three dots, click there (without it clicking somewhere else), go to change layout, and make it tiled.
If that’s not worthy of applause, I don’t know what is.