But now I’m trapped. I feel two-dimensional. I desperately need to break out of this simulation. After days of muting and unmuting, I go out searching for some software or pattern that will feel less fake—something to do, something to show. What I learn is that, of course, some people have solved this already.
I download a piece of software called OBS, which is an open-source video and audio mixer. It turns your computer into a little mixing room, except that instead of anchors and cameras and mixing boards, it’s the different windows on your desktop, the game you’re playing, webcams, video from a friend’s webcam—it is software that turns digital things into sources of sound and light and lets you arrange them into scenes and fade between them.
You can shrink your head and put it into the bottom right corner. You can play a game or a video, or bring up your text editor and share that. You turn your whole digital reality into a TV show and then select your livestreaming service from a dropdown. Of course the dropdown options today seem to be mostly oriented around videogames or porn, Twitch streamer or cam girl.
I see other people discovering OBS. People download it and complain on Twitter about how it doesn’t quite work. Out of the blue, the CEO of Shopify issues a $10,000 bounty for anyone who can make the “virtual camera” software that will link OBS (on a Mac) to Google Meet or Zoom. “I know a lot of people who need OBS now but to broadcast into video conferencing software like zoom/meet/teams,” he writes in a GitHub commit.
My cofounder, who truly loves a good uncomfortable moment, uses a website called Renderforest, and we start adding videos to meetings, overdramatic introductions and announcements of new projects, ridiculous vaporwave scenes, and images of animated people in a cityscape. An imaginary camera pans up and over to reveal, on our building, our logo. What’s more ridiculous than purposefully awkward corporate fun? Someone online will take $100 to bring a llama to your video call. It’s called Goat 2 Meeting. I am tempted.
We are all livestreamers now.
I start writing a tiny bit of custom software, in the evenings, since there’s not much else to do besides bake bread and care for your own health and well-being, neither of which interests me too much. My software shows nice layer-cake diagrams, with components all in harmony and shades of blue. This is a story I usually tell with rectangles in a slide deck, but now, when you click on a component, words pop up, things change. The data is coming alive! You can poke around and show connections. I’m leaving the bottom right of this little app a blank white space, so that I can squeeze my face into it.
I have a lot of fantasies about how it will go. We’ll be paging through some boring-ass Google Slides, and I’ll say, Let me switch over to our Custom Platform Explorer, and my face will swoop down into the bottom right corner, and people will think, I’ve never seen this before. I must give this man my money so he can make me things. Our competitors will be using PowerPoint and Skype, like medieval peasants or big-company automatons. Whereas we’ll be corporate Coppolas.
Stop thinking of an office as a meeting place. Think of an office as a cineplex, each conference room a theater of craft and discipline. In my fantasies the networks are always fast and the software never crashes.
I think my idea will become a component of much future software: the empty space where you put your face. Tune into my livestream, aka any meeting. Let me show you not just slides or ideas but the actual thing that is being made. Chat amongst yourselves. I welcome the back channel. If you miss the show, I’ve recorded it and it’s transcribed in the enormous library of videos that will define our culture. Yes, that will be the future. We’re headed that way. We’re all going to be streams of live data, games and toys and windows. It’s unavoidable. We should welcome it, in fact. Spend time, spend money, and make this happen. And then, after I think these very important thoughts, my spouse and I do our donations, and then we take our two children onto our little balcony, carrying pots and pans. It’s 7 pm and time to cheer for health care workers and first responders, and to wave across the wide street to the neighbors, we who are real, and come from all around the world.
Photo Source: Getty Images
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