Photo by Ellie Bozmarova
This story is a fiction piece, and it was created from my imagination.
Just six miles apart sit two beautiful Bay Area rose gardens: Berkeley and Morcom. Berkeley’s rose garden sits atop Euclid Ave, near the Berryman Reservoir and Concrete Slide park all the cool kids know about in North Berkeley.
Morcom Rose Garden, named after former Oakland Mayor Fred Morcom, is nestled on Jean Street in the Grand Lake neighborhood in Oakland.
The latter garden’s amphitheater was designed by a man named Arthur Cobbledick, which is true, not fictional, though it sounds entirely made up.
These parks are open year-round, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not everyone is able to make it out to see flowers and things these days.
To address a growing need for flower views and smells, two entrepreneurial teens have partnered with Zoom to create the world’s first virtual smell-o-vision tours of the rose gardens.
Introducing the Leaders of the Rose Revolution
What better way to connect with nature than by looking at it on your screen and smelling it through the mysterious power of Zoom?
Local teenagers Zo Ro and Hydrangea Smith decided it was time to get out in nature while being COVID-19-safe under the new shelter-in-place order. While others might be sitting in parks pretending to be wearing masks, or just boldly walking into supermarkets and department stores mask-less-ly, Ro and Smith wanted something more conscious.
Ro, who wore an Adidas tracksuit featuring a red rose pattern during our meeting, was shy compared with Smith. Smith wore a giant rose costume featuring bright pink damask roses.
To say they’re committed to the cause is an understatement.
So, what came first, the rose or the pandemic?
The Story Behind the Roses
“Well, I’ve always loved roses and walking to the rose garden in Berkeley with the fam,” said Ro. We do not know who “the fam” is.
Smith agreed. “Roses are life. You know? They are actually all of life. We’re in life. They’re in us. We are the rose.”
The duo, who met at Berkeley High, decided that life under the pandemic was getting stale, hopeless, and heavy. It was time for something to be shaken up. They’d already seen their friends and relatives making bold stands for voters’ rights, Americans’ rights, international human rights, BLM, and others. They decided to make a change where they could.
“We just wrote a letter,” Smith said. “Sometimes people are surprised that’s all it took, but we had our passion and faith behind it, too.”
The context behind Smith’s statement is that, while, yes, they did just write a letter, they posted the letter on Tik Tok. The entertaining video, with OutKast’s “Roses” song playing in the background, garnered 4.5 million views and 400,000 shares. After the viral video, letters, emails, and snip snaps or whatever else poured into Zoom HQ.
Zoom Rises to the Occasion—Again
The recipient of this letter was none other than Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom and former Cisco Webex executive. While these details about Yuan are true, the rest of this story is not.
Yuan joined Ro, Smith, and this reporter via, of course, Zoom, for an interview.
“Yeah, I just knew these students were on to something,” Yuan said. “Our team has been working with AI for years and thought, wow, we’ve been automating transcripts and providing cool Zoom backdrops, and now we’re, like, the winners of the pandemic. We should do something else good, too.”
The Zoom team, comprised of fifty-five engineers, three perfumers, and six people with really sensitive noses, looked at ways to communicate smell.
“We’ve been communicating sound and visuals for so long,” one of Yuan’s employees, who preferred to remain anonymous for this fake article, said. “It was time to find a coherent way to communicate smell. To keep the integrity of the smell of the roses while maintaining real-time visual connection with the organic matter (reporter: he means plants) as well.”
So, how did they do this?
“Well, it’s complicated. But to give a simple explanation, we added a new aspect to what data can communicate. So instead of carrying three pieces of information from point a to point b, now the data carries four pieces. One of those is smell.”
The team invited this reporter, Ro, and Smith to Zoom HQ to take a look at the process.
It was, to put it mildly, nose-blowing.
In order to prepare the delicious rose-smell for instant transmission via Zoom, the team had to plant their own rose garden at the office.
Then, they had to pretend they were giving a tour via iPhone tablet.
By putting themselves in Ro and Smith’s shoes, they were able to develop a new scent plug-in.
By plugging the scent absorber into the tablet, the “tour guide” was able to suck in lovely rose smells from the flowers and upload them to the Zoom meeting via the Cloud.
This was how Ro and Smith were able to give their first Zoom tour of both Berkeley and Morcom rose gardens.
Over five thousand people participated in the first tour. People laughed, cried, made requests to smell some roses twice.
More tours are planned, but Zoom is developing a custom solution to accommodate more people.
Other Uses for this Scent Absorber
Zoom plans to make these scent absorbers available to the public in January 2021. They come with a variety of stern warnings:
“If using Zoom while using the bathroom during your staff meeting, leave the scent absorber out.”
“Don’t cook while on Zoom.”
“No silent farts.”
Here’s some marketing copy from Zoom’s new product we found rather odd, but refreshingly honest:
You might think nobody can tell you haven’t bathed in six months, but they now can, thanks to the new Zoom scent absorber. Communicate the scents you want with colleagues and loved ones. Don’t communicate the scents you don’t. May these scent absorbers enable you to share life again and also to slowly get used to the idea that you might need to be in rooms with people once more one day.