Zoom and the equalisation of ideas

How politicians and videoconferencing have made the world smaller

When it comes to neologisms that have entered common usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, none are quite so enjoyable to say as the verb ‘zoom’. Every time I see someone write in an email that they’ll ‘zoom’ me – I can’t help but imagine them saying it in the way that a toddler might whilst playing with a toy car.

And yet there is no doubt that Zoom has become one of the runaway success stories of people’s adaptation to the new normal of pandemic life. So much so that we are reaching a point where we take the ability to use video conferencing for granted.

Suddenly, dialling in a conference speaker from the United States and Europe at the same time doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. Of course, all of this existed long before the pandemic, and calling transatlantic is a fairly trivial exercise, but there is something about knowing that, from Brussels to Boston, we’re all in the same boat.

It has allowed us to become more connected than ever before – especially in the way we conduct politics. For the tech savvy lobbyist or consultant, Zoom has become an invaluable tool in the battle to be heard over the noise. No longer is it about struggling to slip someone a flimsy printed business card at a conference; instead, it is about being heard in the Q&A session.

Zoom and other video conferencing software has become the great equaliser in spreading ideas. Suddenly anyone can be speaking at a conference, talking directly to senior political figures or company chiefs. In many ways it leaves much more of an impact than any business card or awkward networking session over soggy sandwiches could.

There is, of course, another side to the success of the Chinese-American company – that its use in politics have made otherwise impossible meetings possible. As a prime example, one need only look at the growth of so-called Inter-Parliamentary Groups since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

The most notable of these is the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). IPAC came about as a result of mounting tensions with China as a result of coronavirus. It was the brainchild of a few bold British Conservative MPs, including former leader Iain Duncan Smith, who used their international contacts to build a coalition.

Initially the aim of the group was to extract answers from the regime about its cover-up of the virus in November 2019, however it expanded further to address other issues. The growing assault on the autonomy of Hong Kong, the genocide against the Uyghurs, and the threat posed to Taiwan all soon become important issues for the group.

While to begin with the grouping looked like the preserve of hawkish conservative politicians in the English-speaking world, it very quickly grew to encompass members from across Europe, the Pacific and North America.

The success of this global movement was down to their use of Zoom and other tools. It is difficult to imagine any other scenario outside of a digital meeting that one would find a Republican Senator from Florida, a German Green MEP, and a Liberal MP from Japan in the same room. All three would be in completely different time zones for a start and arranging the travel for them to meet in one place would be incredibly costly.

Furthermore, few politicians like to travel – either because it would mean being away from parliamentary or constituency commitments, or because it would eat into what little family time they may have left after in their busy schedules. Zoom has broken down those barriers.

Suddenly, politicians from three different countries can join the same call from where they are and discuss the issues that they have in common. It allows them to set a common agenda and establish a common line. Already we have seen positive coordinated results from IPAC, including a global push to recognise events in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province as a genocide.

IPAC serves as a true role model for what can be achieved, not only on a bipartisan basis but on a global level through online cooperation. Impossible meetings that could never have taken place before COVID – between such broad groups – are now on the way to being normalised. International cooperation on an issue-by-issue basis is heading towards a digital golden age.

Robert Tyler is senior policy advisor at New Direction – Foundation for European Reform

14th June 2021