Kitten Lawyers and Potato Bosses: How Zoom Became the Most Surreal Place On the Internet

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Lawyer Rod Ponton trapped inside his kitten filter, in the now-viral Zoom video.
Lawyer Rod Ponton trapped inside his kitten filter, in the now-viral Zoom video. (YouTube)

You’ve all seen it by now: The moment a Texas lawyer showed up to a legal hearing, as a talking (and appropriately concerned-looking) kitten. “I’m here live,” Rod Ponton desperately declared. “I’m not a cat!”

It was the perfect illustration of just how surreal Zoom has been making the lives of white collar professionals since the pandemic began.

When the world was forced out of offices in March 2020, Zoom was a lifesaver—a more modern, more personal approach to the conference calls of old. But it was surreal from the start. Surreal because of the worldwide circumstances that, overnight, made it so essential. Surreal to see all of your coworkers’ faces organized into neat boxes on a screen. And it was surreal to accidentally click the wrong email link and end up in meetings full of strangers.

We have adapted relatively quickly to all of that, all things considered. But what many of us are still struggling with is the fact that the veil between our home and work lives has been lifted in an entirely unprecedented way.


Pre-coronavirus, we knew the outlines of our coworkers’ lives in largely theoretical terms—spouse names, number of children, hometowns, etc. Now we regularly see into their homes, what kind of art they like, how many books they have. We see and hear their pets, children, roommates, spouses and sometimes even their noisy neighbors.

Overnight, we all essentially turned into this guy:

The judge in the now-viral legal hearing, Judge Roy Ferguson, attributed the kitten lawyer snafu to children in the home unexpectedly changing laptop settings. He even issued a warning on Twitter about it. Presumably, something similar happened to the manager who conducted a meeting as a potato last March:

In some ways, coworkers getting a more unfiltered look at each other’s lives might not be such a bad thing. It can be a source of team-building, camaraderie, and empathy—particularly for those trying to work from home while also homeschooling. But it can also make our private lives public in ways we never would have chosen under ordinary professional circumstances.

Trying to retain some kind of separation between home and working life has been a consistent challenge for everyone working from home over the last 11 months. But when there is no physical separation between home and the office, potential humiliation is just one absent thought away. Like the young woman who accidentally went to the bathroom in front of her Zoom class. Or this guy, who forgot to hang up from a work meeting and wandered around in his boxer shorts in front of his co-workers. (Their response was, and remains, internet gold.)

Let’s not forget that Zoom was also the conduit for the downfall of Jeffrey Toobin. The once-celebrated author, lawyer and CNN analyst was seen masturbating mid-Zoom meeting by staff from both The New Yorker and WNYC radio. Toobin called the incident “an embarrassingly stupid mistake.” KTLA called it “one of the fastest and furthest falls one can possibly imagine.” In a year of surreal incidents on Zoom, they don’t come any stranger—or deeply inappropriate—than Toobin’s.

Back at the start of shelter in place, there was something fun and novel about Zoom. I remember the very first KQED Arts & Culture Zoom meeting vividly. (That was back when I still bothered to put on work clothes and makeup for such occasions.) I remember the sense of appreciation I had for still being able to see the faces of my coworkers. And it gave me a small sense that we were triumphing over dire circumstances. I even took a screenshot for posterity because at the time, Zoom seemed like a temporary solution we might soon forget.

Now, almost a year later, Zoom feels more like a permanent fixture we’ll never be without. And that, like so much of our mid-pandemic professional lives, is still going to take some getting used to.