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Zoom Doom is a real thing


“Zoom is exhausting because our mind is tricked into thinking we are together but we are not,” he says. “As Gianpiero Petriglieri has Tweeted, ‘It is easier being in each others’ presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each others’ absence’.

Paul Rhodes an academic at University of Sydney, says that people should try to get up and walk around when making video calls to reduce fatigue. 

“We take for granted the parts of our communication that are actually missing on Zoom. We don’t think about the body, emotional and non-verbal cues and the semantics of emotion in how we communicate.

“The body is like an unconscious thing – it works without thought. But when it’s gone, we’re really lost. We’re struggling because non-verbal communication is no longer there.”

Rhodes says fatigue stems from trying to communicate complex ideas effectively on less data, the self-monitoring aspect of constantly seeing yourself on-screen, the temptation to multitask and have other windows and tabs open, plus the added overarching health and economic stressors of the pandemic itself.

Your work at home chair is making it worse

Occupational therapist Judith Weenink Schoonover says there is additional physical fatigue and pain associated with video conferencing due to our often woefully inadequate workstation setups.

“Most work stations, especially home spaces, are not set up for all-day video-conferencing,” Schoonover says.

“You can discern some of this poor set up by the way some conference attendees appear to lean into the screen or have to shift positions significantly to participate in the chats.”

Rhodes has some tips for making Zoom calls better. Make sure the camera is at eye level; don’t hold a stiff pose during the call – move around like a normal person; use gestures to communicate even if it feels weirdly exaggerated; give yourself some nice lighting, and create a backdrop that represents something about you.

All these ideas help “humanise the screen” and “make the 2D feel more 3D”, he says.

Rhodes says we need to decide as a community whether video conferencing should stay as entrenched in our lives as it has been for the past few months.

“Are we entering into a post-human era where we now actually have become the cyborgs of science fiction? Is it just that it looks so normal, that we actually are crossing that rubicon now to be so reliant on tech, that we’ve become disembodied from each other? And should we be worried about it?” he asks.

“There should be a debate. We should ask ourselves if this is what we want in our society … I think it’s dangerous if we don’t at least debate it.”

Screen time versus face time

Philosophical questions aside, video conferencing has allowed many businesses to keep functioning during what otherwise would have been a very disruptive period.

Brent Potts says Zoom meetings are probably here to stay. 

“Would I prefer face-to-face? Absolutely. I think face-to-face is still always better,” says stockbroker Brent Potts, who credits video conferencing with helping his Blue Ocean Equities operate nearly normally during the shutdown.

“But I think what we’ve learned from this experience is that it’s not always necessary to get on a plane to Melbourne to see three or four clients in a day.”

“I am still a great believer that face-to-face is still better for many things, but there is no doubt in my mind that Zoom is going to be here forever and a day now, and far more used.”

For Ricky Buchanan, who is more or less permanently bedridden with severe chronic fatigue syndrome, the Zoom boom has presented an Catch 22.

There are more resources and activities accessible online to Ms Buchanan, but she worries that she has only limited time to capitalise on them before the world returns to “normal”.

“It lets me be involved in things that I would otherwise be completely excluded from, but it’s also super exhausting … There is just so much sensory processing going on,” Ms Buchanan says.

“It’s a bit like being starved for twenty years, then being plonked down in the middle of an all you can eat buffet, but the buffet has a time limit, it just says it’s closing soon, but you don’t know when. So you feel like you have to eat everything all at once … I literally have made myself ill by doing too much in the last few months!”

She has learned to be brutal about not saying yes to everything and often tunes into the Zoom call audio but hides the other person’s video.

Philosopher and author Eleanor Gordon-Smith recently told a concerned reader in The Guardian that it was more than fine to set boundaries on how many social Zoom calls they took in a day.

“A therapist friend explained to me that for some people, being watched by multiple eyes for long stretches of time can just wring out your adrenal system. It’s too many points of view to inhabit at once; you look through your own eyes and the eyes of the people watching you. You see yourself watching and being watched. All this observing crowds out your ability to simply think, or be,” Ms Gordon-Smith wrote.

“Zoom made this experience literal. Most of our days now are spent watching ourselves being watched, bent like a digital Narcissus over thumbnails of our own faces, learning just how painfully oxymoronic it is to try to appear unobserved. That self-consciousness is exhausting.”

Video call fatigue may well be one of the hidden costs of technological progress, but naming the problem is a start to allowing us to do something about it.



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