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UC Berkeley: What's a current "killer app" Spring 2020



There's a ride at Walt Disney World's EPCOT center called "Spaceship Earth". You've seen the exterior if you've ever seen a photograph of the park- it's the big gray geodesic sphere. The ride, conceived and outlined by Author Ray Bradbury(!), took guests through a history of communication into an optimistic projection of the future. After depicting various scenes of animatronic cavemen painting on walls, Guttenberg printing machines, and 1980's "present day", etc, guests encountered a possible future with video conference calls between doctors and remote patients, and a family split between Japan and America. How exciting! To think that one day what was once reserved for the political and business elite would be available to the common man! Eight year old me was filled with the burning hope that that future would somehow come to pass while I was still alive. And now, x years later, here's that future in the thick of a pandemic.

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I know I'm echoing my colleagues in this course when I say Zoom is most definitely a "killer app". One could argue Skype, FaceTime, What's App, etc, are the original "killer apps", but Zoom has truly been the leader in defining the evolution and adoption of computers in society, especially in this time. Before, with the aforementioned, it was assumed one already had the computer/device, and was using those apps as part of their normal day, part of their normal computer savvy skills and/or business requirements. Almost eight months into quarantine, we have all (regardless of savvy) redefined how to work, how to study, and how to socially interact, and it has all been mostly through Zoom.

My personal case for example: I just completed the Intro to JavaScript course through Berkeley Ex, via Zoom (study). While writing this discussion, a friend linked me to a Zoom meeting for tomorrow's board game night (social). When the pandemic first started, I was a reader for actors with Casting Directors both in Los Angeles and New York City, and auditioned and was cast in a commercial, all via Zoom. All of my voice lessons are now taught via Zoom (work). I had no prior knowledge of Zoom before March, and now I use it almost every day, multiple times a day.

Globally, on April 30th, it was reported that there were 300 million participants every day in Zoom meetings. Up from less than 10 million in December 2019. Zoom exploded this year and made interaction and productivity a possibility during a quarantine.

What ultimately proved to me that Zoom is the current textbook definition of a "killer app" (encouraging the adoption of computers into society) was when I celebrated a dear friend's 89th birthday via Zoom last weekend. Before the quarantine, she only had a land-line and rarely used her computer. She didn't even have a personal email account. At this party, she was the host (with her adult childrens' help), and 80% of the guests were also senior citizens, where for only a few it was their first time. The majority of the guests were already familiar with Zoom- citing family meetings and doctor's visits for their proficiency, all newly acquired since the quarantine.

This wasn't the way anyone had hoped to normalize video conferencing or encourage computer use, but it's a silver lining. Necessity breeds improvisation; survival and connection demand growth. Zoom has been our age's "killer app" and has literally saved us as a society in keeping connection and productivity going. As we move forward in innovation, let's hope our next "killer app" is born from kinder means, yet fosters the same connection, the same humanity.

(In case anyone needs a mini-vacation. The video conference call scenes have since been updated with a Matrix-like screen instead. Narrated by Dame Judi Dench.)

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