We can thank COVID for at least one result: the rise of the virtual gathering | GUEST COMMENTARY

The headquarters for Zoom is shown Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

Simple pleasures in a turbulent world. That is how I describe Zoom video gatherings — perhaps the only positive to come out of COVID. Launched in 2013, several years before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, Zoom had 400,000 people sign up in the first month. By the end of its first year, Zoom users had racked up 200 million meeting minutes.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic, when most people were confined to their homes, Zoom growth expanded to 300 million daily meeting participants in April 2020. Moreover, the Zoom mobile app was downloaded 485 million times, also in 2020.


Today the Zoom software registers more than 3.3 trillion annual meeting minutes. The market cap of this publicly traded company exceeds $75 billion.

Recently, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, released a report on the detrimental effects of loneliness and isolation. While Zoom communication is not in-person communication — no one can hold hands or hug — it certainly provides a close second.


For example, once every two weeks — Sunday at 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time “for the ones on the East Coast and 3 p.m.for those on the West,” my friend Peggy zooms (yes, “zoom” is a verb and a noun) with her siblings.

“We zoom,” explains Peggy, “usually to celebrate or commemorate or commiserate.” Sometimes the group expands to include children, grandchildren and pets. “Lately,” she adds, “a few significant others have crept in. The best discussions are sharing memories, laughing and sometimes scandalizing the younger set.”

“Zoom allows me to gain opportunities that would not have been possible,” says 17-year-old Elizabeth, an eleventh grader, who is an accomplished dancer and attends the Bryn Mawr School. “Being able to participate in dance programs with people from around the world — from my living room in Baltimore — is a surreal experience,” she adds.

Elaine in Ashland, Oregon, a friend for more than 50 years, is surely the Zoom queen, if such a title exists. On any given day, Elaine may take a virtual tour of the orchard show at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in New York, then watch and listen to a symphony; followed by a painting class, which she watches while she paints; ending with a book discussion group (one of three). She also takes university classes, as well as fitness classes.

“Zoom got me through the pandemic years,” says Elaine, “and I have had — and still have — social, educational and cultural interactions in my own home, wearing slippers if I want to.”

Ninety-five-year-old Sorelle, who lives in Chicago, does Pilates every morning on Zoom, and has taken my last several literature courses in the Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program, all on Zoom, during and since COVID.

Whereas teaching on the Homewood Campus, in person, for many years, was rewarding, as I and my participants age, we prefer not to drive at night. Instead, we can see each other on-screen, learn and engage in stimulating discussions while remaining in our respective homes.

But Sorelle in Chicago is not my furthest away Zoom participant, nor are the Floridians, New Yorkers or Californians. Mia, an investment adviser, who lives in Sydney, Australia, also takes my courses. When the classes begin at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays, it’s 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Sydney. But Mia is always on time!


No one with an iPhone, iPad or laptop has to miss a class. John, a retired neurologist who loves Shakespeare (even though “Hamlet” was not one of our plays in that course, he still recited one of the soliloquies) tuned in from San Francisco one week while attending a medical conference.

Not only do I enjoy teaching courses on Zoom, but I take them as well. The Smithsonian offers a wide range, and I have taken courses in art history, in music and, of course, in literature.

Hundreds of thousands of workers, in nearly all professions, are now working remotely. After COVID, many workers chose hybrid commuting — part home, part in the office rather than working in an office full time. The perks are obvious: no getting stuck in traffic,no dressing formally, no rigid schedules as long as the work gets done.

However, like any new phenomenon, Zoom is not the panacea for all ages. Teaching young children on Zoom has not proven effective. Says Michael, the eighth-grade valedictorian at Gilman, “I feel neutral about Zoom.” It’s better than nothing but cannot compare to in-person teaching.”

But for adults, especially older adults, Zoom is definitely special. Just ask my Wednesday noon Bible class of 15 participants from three different churches in many different parts of the city.

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of “The Feminine Irony” and “Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing.” Her email is