Teleconference is bad for democracy


Commentary

A teacher recently gave a scheduled presentation to the Waterloo Regional Board of Education. Before she finished speaking, the chairman of the board immediately cut off her. According to the chair, the teacher violated state human rights law and had to stop.

However, the teacher only expressed concern about the appropriateness of the age of certain books found in the elementary school library. Specifically, the teacher thought that some books had too much sexual content for elementary school students.

Given that the school board was actively considering the inappropriate content of books in the library, it would be surprising if one of the school board teachers drew the attention of the school board in certain cases. there is no.

Board video recordings are usually posted online, but recordings of this meeting were removed from the Internet shortly after posting. The president argued that this measure was taken to prevent further harm from the teacher’s presentation. A more likely explanation is that the video made the board chairman look ridiculous by refusing to listen to one of his own teachers.

There’s one more thing in this meeting that looks ridiculous. It was done remotely. The members of the board were at home attending the meeting via Zoom. So was the planned presenter — including a teacher talking about books in the library.

We’ve had this pandemic almost two years and the government has finally lifted public health restrictions. The vaccine is available to anyone who wants the vaccine, and a promising new treatment for COVID-19 has been approved by Health Canada. Given these facts, elected officials do not need to hold a remote board meeting.

Sadly, the Waterloo Regional Municipal Board of Education is far from the only school board that still holds teleconferences. Boards of councilors in major cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver hold online board meetings. Many local governments are also sticking to conference calls, at least for the time being.

In reality, remote meetings are clearly inferior to face-to-face meetings. In addition to overlooking the usual interpersonal relationships that normally occur during face-to-face meetings, participants can easily avoid interacting with disagreeable people in remote meetings. It makes it easier for politicians to stick to existing echo chambers.

It is quite possible that Waterloo’s teacher was unfairly blocked by the Chairman of the Board during a face-to-face meeting. But at least the chairman and teacher of the board were looking at each other and together in the same room. Removing someone from a remote meeting with the click of a button is much easier than telling them to leave the building. Perhaps this blunder could have been avoided by meeting in person.

In addition, there is a scientific basis for what is often referred to as “zoom fatigue.” Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that Internet ragtime makes it difficult for Zoom participants to get subtle clues during a conversation. Participants usually feel exhausted afterwards, as participants need to make more efforts to understand each other during remote meetings.

If zoom fatigue occurs after a casual conversation between family members, zoom fatigue is bad enough. Now consider the impact of a two-year zoom conference by political adversaries who do not tend to give suspicious interests to each other. It’s not surprising that serious conflicts can occur.

Add to this the ongoing technical challenges that arise during Zoom meetings. The problems that can occur are endless, such as forgetting to operate the mute button, unstable Wi-Fi reception, and misalignment of the camcorder. This kind of problem rarely occurs in face-to-face meetings.

Finally, remote meetings are often not taken as seriously as face-to-face meetings. There are many examples of impaired judgment by participants. For example, a member of parliament in Montreal appeared twice naked on the camera at the House of Commons Zoom Conference. It is unlikely that he pulled this stunt when he met in person. A councilor at a school in Chiliwak lit a cigarette and drank wine during a remote meeting. This was never directly forgiven.

Teleconference is bad for democracy. Elected officials owe themselves and their members to hold appropriate face-to-face meetings. This means that you will not meet beyond the zoom.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwagstra

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Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, senior researcher at the Frontier Public Policy Center, and author of “The Sages on Stage: Common Sense Thoughts on Education and Learning.”