I then spent the rest of the day having my mind thoroughly and comprehensively blown.
I’d expected to have a trickle of visitors, most of whom would be the usual suspects of the video experiments of recent weeks. And the first arrival in the bar, about half an hour after I’d opened it, was one of the usual suspects: Gary K in Chicago , with whom I’d already chatted to several times.
But the second visitor, not long afterward, was a surprise: Torquaymada. He was a regular reader of my blog, but an almost-never-commenter. He said he liked Idle Theory. He didn’t stay very long. He said he was just dropping in for “a quick half”, and fairly soon left Gary and me to our conversation.
The third visitor to the Smoky Drinky Bar was a far outsider: Liza from Melbourne, Australia, who’d just come back from a night out, and had idly clicked on the link to the Smoky Drinky Bar she saw in the feed in the margin of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, and to her astonishment found herself inside it with Gary and me. She was a vaper, and said she was a regular VGIF reader. She’d emailed me a few weeks back to try and join in a Skype session. She called over her husband, Rory. And pretty soon he was sat next to her chatting with Gary and me, and showing us the Australian version of “Plain” Packaging. We now had four visitors – customers? – in the Smoky Drinky Bar.
Shortly after that we were joined by regular reader Kin_Free from Durham, sitting under a parasol under a brilliant blue sky. And then RdM in New Zealand (for whom the time was 2 or 3 in the morning), and Nisakiman in Greece.
Gary dropped out at some point, and so did RdM. I managed to do a screen capture, showing (in clockwise order from top left), me, Liza and Rory, Kin_free, and Nisakiman:
We’d had 6 video feeds running simultaneously at one point. But since it was past midnight in Australia, Liza and Rory fairly soon had to retire, and the numbers present gradually dwindled away until I was left back on my own like I started two or three hours earlier.
But then Brigitte in Liverpool arrived in the bar, to tell me about all the plumbing repairs she’d been doing. And the numbers began to rise again. By late evening the numbers had risen back to 4 or 5 people in the bar. At “closing time” there was (clockwise) me, John Buck, Kin_free, and Gary K, earnestly discussing F2C and UKIP and politics:
By the time I went to bed not long after midnight, there’d been some 10-12 visitors in total throughout the day, with some of them returning repeatedly. They included Junican in Bolton, and Joe L in the USA (Seattle?). All were either smoking or vaping.
It wasn’t entirely problem-free. The most successful session was the one with Liza and Rory and RdM, after Nisakiman had shifted to another computer. All six people could see and hear each other clearly. But in the afternoon and evening, Brigitte found that her audio was breaking up, and so did Barry Homan in Denmark, and GaryK was freezing up and appearing upside down for some people.
By the end of the day I was left with the impression that the premium version of appear.in worked a lot better than the free version, but only if the participants had a fairly good broadband connection, and a fairly newish computer or ipad or mobile phone. My own broadband speeds were about 10 Gbps download, 0.8 Gbps upload, in Herefordshire, England, and I never experienced any problems.
And more or less all concerned were delighted by the experience. Liza said she was going to tell all her Australian friends about appear.in. GaryK had already set up an appear.in room for his family
And everyone got along amazingly well, for being people who had mostly never met each other before. “It’s like being in a pub,” John Buck declared at one point. And it was. But it was a pub in which the “customers” were actually sitting in England and the USA and Australia and New Zealand and Greece. And I felt I’d made a whole new bunch of friends.
Emily sent me an email today with a link to an article in the Boston Globe about video conferencing:
…the notion of committing to a group video chat, for no other reason than to hang out, seems a little extra. After all, the labor and stress of the average conference call seems, as the kids might say, totes inapropes when applied to an adult hangout. If there’s no agenda, what are we meeting about? Can I go back to my desk/bed?
“Most adults” may not have a reason to meet up for video chats, but smokers have much more reason than most. They have, after all, been “exiled to the outdoors” nearly everywhere, and in many cases had their social lives shattered. If smokers want to meet up and smoke and drink and chat with other smokers, using something like appear.in is for many of them the only way to do it. They have a whole bunch of good reasons to meet up, and they have a white-hot burning agenda too. I think there will soon be a whole army of Smoky Drinky Bars opening all over the world. And there’ll probably be moves by Tobacco Control to ban them: they’ll probably claim that “Virtual smoke is just as lethal as real smoke,” or something.
And as broadband speeds gradually climb (Grandad near Dublin has speeds about 10 times mine), and computers get more powerful, and service providers like appear.in provide better services, it’ll probably be possible to hold entire parties online, with hundreds of guests, smoking and drinking to their hearts’ content.
I’ll return to the Smoky Drinky Bar today – but I’m not going to spend 10 hours there like I did yesterday. I’ll pop in at 1 pm BST, and again at 5 pm BST, and then 9 pm BST.