I’m about to do my first talk as a presenter at a Zoom conference. I’m not worried about what I’m going to say. I’m not worried about the lighting. I know to add a lamp or two so that so I don’t resemble a horror show character in Halloween.
I am a little worried about my Internet connection, but I can’t do much about it since my Internet provider treats my island as if it were a remote foreign territory.
I’m mostly worried about how to connect with my Zoom audience when I can only see them out of the sides of my eyes.
How do I come across as an inviting, friendly, normal human being when I have to stare at an expressionless little circle where the camera lives above my computer screen?
If I try to look at my audience in their small boxes as I’m talking, they’ll see my eyes going slant. If I do manage to see them, they’ll be looking sideways at me.
The world may soon be going slant.
Why is no one talking about this new slant-eye epidemic?
I found many articles online exploring Zoom fatigue, eye fatigue, and the travesties of Facebook. But has anyone stopped to think how Zoom may be turning us into digital zombies?
Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”*
I’ve adapted it to Zoom, “Look straight ahead, but see things slant.”
We may be morphing into a race of people who can only look at each other from the sides of our eyes.
My horse has it better. Because of her eyes, she can’t see much when she looks straight ahead, and she sees better off her sides. Perfect for Zoom. She could go on camera and face straight ahead, showing off her tiny gray blaze and adorable eyes, while still watching us out the side.
I am not so gifted.
I’m challenged to balance zoom with direct face-to-face encounters. As we (hopefully) move out of the pandemic, I have social anxiety about restarting in-person socializing. On Zoom, I’ve gotten used to hanging out in gatherings of fifty or more. No problem. Most of the group may be multi-tasking anyway as we listen to Zoom. (Guilty!) But face-to-face gatherings where I need to look people in the eye? I need to start back gradually. Thus far, I’ve made it up to a group of about five.
It may be that the stress of looking people in the eye is too much for me.
Perhaps, if I keep practicing the art of slant-eyed seeing, I won’t have to worry. I’ll lose the desire to see eyeballs and expressions.
Which some people increasingly seem to prefer.
We may be developing our zombie-like capacity to not look at people.
Consider the modern family dinner table, complete with cell phones. Keep your head down, while you eat and text.
My teenage granddaughter taught me a lesson in digital relationships when she visited. She and her cousin enjoyed an afternoon sitting next to each other on our couch while texting each other.
Yes grandma, life has changed.
I don’t have the solution for this.
I can take care of my eyes with exercises to relax them: look away from the screen frequently and blink a lot. I can take frequent breaks, massage my eyes, and take walks in nature allowing my eyes to be soft, absorbing beauty without staring. And spend more time away from the screen.
As a presenter, though, I need to prepare myself to focus on a tiny green light as if it is a living, breathing human listening to me, which it is not.
That camera behind it, however, will not smile at me, laugh, yawn or fidget. It will beam at me expressionless regardless of how comedic or dull I am.
I’ll try to pretend that the little camera lens wants to hear my talk, instead of worrying about the fifty others listening online. If I could see them, they’d all be looking at me slant-eyed anyway.
*And now, a bit of calm, focused, pre-Zoom reflection, a la Emily DIckinson:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —