A true story about accidental Zoom-Booming, from way before the Zoom Boom.
Monday 7 am. My partner and I are about to present some UI concepts to one of our regular clients. Skype rings.
"Morning guys" − his smile takes up my entire screen.
Robert is this super nice guy, running a marketing agency and collaborating with people from all over the world. His workweek could be described as a never-ending marathon of video calls, and we happen to be his first one for the day.
The opening few minutes of our meeting get devoted to complaining about the weather (for the sake of tradition), and just as I'm about to start my presentation, Robert interrupts me − "Hey, let me share my screen for a moment before you start. I want to show you something."
His round face is replaced by the square browser window as he starts walking us through this presentation he'd been working on.
I'm trying my best to focus on his pitch, I really am, but there are some 30 more tabs opened in his browser, and I just can't help but look at them. My eyes roll over the tabs, as I realize I know most of these favicons. And then it hits me!
These are all Porn sites!
1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 15, 23. Twenty-three tabs of Porn? What?
Robert, you beast!
I turn my head to Marta (my partner). Did she notice? Oh yeah, she noticed! The embarrassment kicks in. I guess we don't usually think of our clients in the context of their sex lives − yet there was Robert, giving us a peek at his − not even realizing it.
Should I tell him? Of course Not! It would be extra awkward − just shut your mouth and pretend we didn’t see anything.
Robert goes on, describing one of his charts, not having a clue that all I can think of is him masturbating to 23 porn videos − at the same time!
In a heroic effort, we somehow manage to keep it pro, wrap up the call and get the approval for our concepts. The meeting ends and we burst into laughter.
Marta is so proud of my sales skills enduring this test.
A few hours later, I'm alone in my office. I'm thinking about Robert. I feel bad for not telling him.
"Rob, wanna hop on a short call?"
"Sure, give me a sec. I need to get dressed," he responds.
Skype rings. His kind face appears again. But this time he looks tired, so I get straight to the point − "Hey... um... you remember today... when you... um... shared your screen during our call?"
Robert blushes. He starts laughing, covering his face with his hands − he knows. Turns out he shared his screen quite a few times that day. At least a dozen of his stakeholders and partners, from all over the world, had a peek at his private affairs until the last guy he spoke to started laughing straight to his face and told him. That's how he found out.
If only I had told him when I had the chance, he wouldn't have embarrassed himself in front of all those other people. And, sure, that made me feel like shit, but what was truly bugging me − what I really needed to find out was: why 23 tabs? What do you do with so many? I mean, I can't even manage half of that myself, so naturally, I had to ask.
"Rob. My man. What exactly do you do with 23 tabs of porn? How does that work? I mean do you...?" (I'm fishing for some pro tips)
His soft cheeks turn red again. "You know what's the worst thing?" He says, "I wasn’t even watching the porn."
"I was doing research."
Boom! Naturally, I burst into laughter. It was the most ridiculous excuse I had heard in a while. Research? Seriously? I mean that's the type of excuse I would give to my parents in high school when they would walk on me masturbating − "Mom I swear, it's not what it looks like! It's just research for my school project! Close the door, please! No, no, no, don't let the grandma in... NOOO..."
A tiny, tired smile forms on Robert's face. He's ashamed. I can see it in his eyes as he realizes that no one will believe him. I imagine him explaining it to all of his colleagues and them pretending they hadn't seen anything. I imagine him explaining it to those who actually didn’t see anything. I imagine all of them laughing out loud at his "I was doing research" explanation.
So, I choose to believe him, and against all odds, it turns out rightly so − the poor guy wasn't making it up! Apparently, he was working on a marketing campaign for Pornhub − doing the actual research, practically getting paid to look at porn ads. And as if seeing hundreds of penis enlargement banners he would never be able to erase from his memory wasn't enough, he ended up doing it publicly, in front of his peers.
At that moment, the whole "research" explanation made the situation way less embarrassing. The image of my client masturbating was suddenly replaced with him doing this simple yet daunting task (a competitive analysis, if you will). It was just work, like any other. But even after six years, I keep thinking about it, and I am still not sure what to make of it.
I guess I'm yet to figure out if it's better to give your colleagues a peek at your sex life, or showing them that you're working for the porn industry.
Btw, I decided never to tell Marta about any of this. She still thinks Robert is just really passionate about his porn.