Since the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus, a lot many unusual practices have already become the ‘new normal’ for people all over the world. For our industry webinars are now the new normal, taking the whole world of graphic arts industry by the storm. Here are few examples: Textile and Apparel Virtual Trade Show, W+D Virtual Direct Mail Days, Dscoop Virtual Summit, Heidelberg Virtual Global Customer Campaign, Roto4All Rotogravure Webinar and …. Some even have a very homey title like Fespa Coffee Break Webinar. Even exhibitions such as drupa launched a virtual show to promote their physical exhibition. Soon we will have webinars to promote other webinars. To tell you the truth I already lost the track.
I know, I know. This is part of the social distancing practices. Blame it on Coronavirus. But I feel there is an underlying machination in full force here. Throwing a webinar on the web is cheap and almost effortless. So companies are indulging themselves in the excesses of virtual world. Gone are the days that companies invited their customers to their premises paying for their tickets and accommodation or spending millions of euros to take part in a trade event. To be fair the dismal economic situation – curtesy of Covid- brought along many challenges for the companies. It is not business as usual. Companies are worried about their bottom line. Cost cutting is a must and webinar is a perfect solution to show what is new and galvanize the relationship with the customer. Or is it?
The fact is the technology to organize a webinar existed since many years ago, long before Covid starts to wreak havoc all over the world. But the companies felt obliged to present live shows and meet the customers in person. Covid now is the perfect excuse not to do that. Excuse maybe is too harsh a word, let say it is an opportunity forced upon you to go online. That is fine. We cannot blame companies for Coronavirus. But according to Claus Bolza-Schünemann, CEO of Koenig and Bauer Coronavirus also taught us that we can do many things virtually. Now the tricky part is if Coronavirus is gone within six months its effects will stay with us for some time, maybe years. Does this mean webinar is here to stay? For one thing webinar has its own set of challenges; technical problems can lead to the event being canceled, or prevent participants from joining in, no communication is possible through body language if no video feed is available. Other types of technical problems could also occur with the result being the anger and frustration of participants (especially if they have paid for it), i.e. business firewalls, slow Internet speeds, system configurations incompatible, etc. But among all these flows one that strikes me the most is the body language. Body language is essential in communication and online webinar makes it difficult, if not impossible, to establish a genuine human connection.
Alas we are living in the age of webinars and we have to get used to it, maybe forever. This situation reminds me of a cartoon that was circulating widely in social media. It is understood that the image was featured on the front page of the 1962 edition of the weekly newspaper, La Domenica del Corriere, which was published from 1899 to 1989. The cartoon, published on December 16, 1962, was drawn by Walter Molino, an Italian comics artist and illustrator, who depicted many pedestrians using motorized personal pods instead of walking in a busy street.
Was he thinking about Coronavirus? Did he have some sort of vague premonition of danger? Did the illustrator predict Coronavirus pandemic in 1962? The image is quite hunting. And the idea that webinars will change the way we communicate and Interact with the world of graphic arts also scares me.
Damn you Covid – 19!