A year into working from home, the number of Zoom meetings that should be phone calls is only rising. And our Zoom-avoidance strategies have not gotten any better. We may have toyed with blaming power outages and broken internet connections, and some may have resorted to fake freezing when called upon on a video chat. (Mouth agape, mid-sentence is a nice touch.)
A new tool, Zoom Escaper, takes the pressure off your acting and stillness skills. Following a few simple steps, you can sabotage your own audio streams, “making your presence unbearable to others,” according to the description by the developer, Sam Lavigne. It creates fake, noisy background distractions that sound like they’re emanating from your living space. There’d be little realistic recourse on the part of your colleagues other than excusing you from the meeting to shut off the terrible din and deal with the perceived interruption.
For the tool to work, you’d need to install a software that creates a virtual link between your audio output and input, and then tweak a couple of audio settings on Zoom (or whatever telecommunication service you use). Once enabled, you won’t hear a thing, but for the other attendees the distractions will range on a scale from a tad bothersome to excruciating, according to how loud you set them, how you’ve melded them together, and perhaps how sensitive to annoyance the other people are.
There are eight artificial noise options, including technical difficulties like an echo (you can set the delay time and feedback level) and a bad connection (set the choppiness level). There are the options of a crying baby, the barks of loud dogs, screechy gusts of wind, and the drilling din of nearby construction.
Moving into stranger territory: There is the unsettling sound of a man weeping, and the pitter-patter of urination, loud enough that it seems like it’s unnervingly near to you. In both cases, the noises will probably be less grating for colleagues, but may raise questions about your cohabitants, sanitation setups, and general life choices.
The project is the second in an increasingly Zoom-bashing portfolio for Lavigne, following on the heels of Zoom Deleter, a tool that continually checks to see whether Zoom is installed on your computer and deletes it if so.
On the demo video page for Zoom Escaper, Lavigne seems amenable to adding commenters’ other suggestions, including cats fighting and dishes breaking, though users were generally very happy with the initiative, offering high praise such as “This man is doing the lord’s work.” Some were concerned that meeting organizers may intercept news about the tool too soon and be vigilant for fake babies and urine.
Mashed all together, the noises would certainly create a cocktail of cacophonies that are hard for anyone with normal sensitivities to endure. But, unaddressed is what to do if you’re simply instructed to mute yourself or reschedule for later. Or if your colleagues are simply not offended by blaring echoes and unfazed by a grown man bawling.