Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Early last year when the pandemic struck, I was pretty much unaware of its magnitude and its power to turn my life upside-down. Now, one year into the journey, I still see very little light at the end of the tunnel, but I know for certain that it is foolish to expect life to ever be the same again.
One of the biggest changes for me, and I'm sure for many people, was to migrate to work on line. Sure, I've been shopping online, using social media and looking up things on Google, but none of these experiences compared to what I would be faced with when doing RSI. During the shutdown in Thailand last year, all meetings and conferences were cancelled. Also because most other countries were in shutdown as well, all my assignments abroad were cancelled. It was a moment of reckoning for me: from being booked to work in conferences in London, Sydney and Taipei to having nothing at all. So I thought this would be the end of my interpreting career and perhaps I should retire, but then there were inquiries for remote interpreting.
I was reluctant because most of my remote interpreting experiences have been negative. I remembered way back at the beginning of my career there was telephone interpreting where the sound quality was pretty bad, and because you couldn't see one another, people were always speaking at the same time. Then, there was teleconferencing which provided you with both audio and visual input but the signal wasn't that great either. Now they want me to work on something called RSI, on a remote platform interpreting distant speakers in faraway places and expect the arrangement to produce positive outcomes? But I had no other choice so I started attending the online trainings and I set up an "acclimatization" group to get colleagues ready for the (new?) technology.
Before COVID-19, the majority of conferences I worked for were on-site, which meant I didn't have to worry much about the equipment or the logistics. All I needed to do was check that a reliable equipment provider was doing the job and leave the rest to them. Now, with the equipment provider gone (or at least not on-site with me) I had to also worry about the technical set-up. I found myself with the additional burden of having to split my attention between the equipment part and the interpreting part of the job. At first, the burden was immense, starting from not being able to get the right headsets because all had been sold out from the market to not being able to rely on low speed home internet because it was unstable. I found RSI to be insufficient in many ways. The biggest issue was not working from the same physical booth as your boothmate, which meant the handover was more difficult. There were also other issues as well like speakers not using proper headsets, resulting in very poor sound quality. As the year progressed, I found ways to work around the insufficiencies such as setting up another video call between myself and my boothmate so we could see and signal to each other when we wanted to change and telling clients that using proper headsets contribute to better interpreting quality. Most of these tactics helped me become more comfortable with RSI.
Since then, I have tried a number of headsets, bought myself a super fast computer, and ungraded my internet subscription. I am now familiar with most RSI platforms and I know their individual strengths and weaknesses. I have an RSI work station at home, but for more complex assignments, my colleague and I prefer to be co-located at our hub. Come to think of it, RSI is here to stay, even after COVID. You cannot be resistant to change. With resistance, the transition becomes more painful. Of course, there will always be the need for people to meet face to face and network but RSI is a very fitting gap-filler for the time when they can't meet in person. In the future, I see both on-site interpreting and RSI being used not against, but to complement each other. So folks, you've got to get on the train if you don't want to be left behind. Get out of your comfort zone. Adopting RSI has been a cornerstone decision for me and I am grateful to my supporters: (remote) booth-mates, (remote) technicians, and (remote) clients. I am keeping my fingers crossed that there will be no more disruptions, but you never know.