Zoom’s emerging as a technical hero of the pandemic. Millions of people are connecting in ways no one would have thought possible just three months ago.
After bajillions of uses, however, a new expression is popping up: “Zoom fatigue.”
“There is a special kind of tiredness that comes from a day of Zoom calls, despite the fact that they can take place without you ever leaving your couch (or your sweats). More strangely, this fatigue can hit even after meetings with coworkers you love and friends you miss very much.” Gianpiero Petriglieri, MD,
Despite being grateful for the emergency life raft of connectivity Zoom and similar virtual platforms offer, I, too, am wearing out.
Last week, I had a get-to-know-you conversation with a new friend I met in a virtual class. We used the old fashioned telephone to talk, untethered to the computer, and it was a relief.
I’m a mover. I hate sitting still for 90-minute Zoom conversations. Trying to pay attention. Trying to look at people. Sometimes I go audio-only, with a picture of me posted on the screen, so I can wander around the house using my headset. I listen better when I move. Honestly. (It’s not that I don’t love seeing you…)
I listen to webinars by weeding the garden. Dirt is a terrific antidote for too much screen time.
Apparently one of the things that makes Zoom fatiguing has to do with how we use our eyes. We’re creating a new distorted reality staring at people on screens without really making eye contact. Look at a room of Zoom-ers and almost everyone will be glancing somewhere else. We look sideways or down in order to see others on camera.
What’s going to happen when we have to make eye contact again? Will we greet each other by looking sideways?
Watching yourself on camera for periods of time is fatiguing. I will occasionally look straight at my computer’s camera to offer eye contact to others, but then I have to glance sideways to check out what I look like on-screen. Probably best not to know.
I have come to anticipate the dead spaces, technical glitches, and the ubiquitous ritual called, “Start of a Zoom call.” The first ten minutes of a meeting will often be wasted as people struggle with Internet issues or try to find their mute buttons (the most important thing you need to know about Zoom). Then we’ll have the fasten-your-seatbelts-before-takeoff lecture called “How to use Zoom for the first time” as our host prepares to finally launch the meeting. Finally.
If I were more enlightened I’d use those ten minutes for deep breathing, meditating, or practicing presence. It’s more likely that I’ll check my email once, or maybe twice, at which point my mind will start darting down the rabbit hole of thinking there is something else I should be doing.
Recently, Zoom has introduced the option of fake backdrops. Believe me, I’d prefer to see your messy office than the picture of you you sitting in front of tropical palms on the beach where I know you’re not. Plus, there’s the artistic problem of the little halo we see around your head.
The benefits of zooming in
Challenges aside, through Zoom and YouTube videos filmed at home, I’ve made some remarkable discoveries:
- No one can see me close enough to know that my gray roots are growing out or even cares. (Theirs might be, too.)
- Hollywood stars were not born with two-inch eyelashes and super-styled hair.
- Celebrities are real people who can stumble when they talk and aren’t always that funny away from an audience. They have kids. I wonder if they really keep their houses that neat or whether a maid is standing off-camera, hopefully in a mask.
- Bookcases. I LOVE the Twitter site: Bookcase Credibility, where the motto is “What you say is not as important as the bookcase behind you.” I have a passion for people’s bookcases. But remind me to remove any erotica from mine before I record business videos.
Then there are cool events that couldn’t happen otherwise:
- I attended the wedding of a friend’s son, which took place on the other side of the country. Over 300 guests attended, frantically typing Mazal Tov as tears fell on their keyboards.
- I was surprisingly moved when I attended my first Zoom memorial for a friend’s grandmother I had never met.
- I experienced a virtual version of the Story Bridge process that I love. In little breakout rooms, small groups shared experiences of the pandemic and then created stories to perform before the larger group. The magic of connection occurred–not always my experience online.
- The Alvin Ailey dancers put together this shelter-in-place video, A Call to Unite Alvin Ailey’s ‘Revelations,’ an excerpt from Ailey’s classic piece. Get ready to tap your toes. It inspired me to want to get moving and remember all the places in the world where we still can be dancing.
Zoom or similar video medium are here to stay. But if you’re Zoom-ed out, zoom back in by walking away from the computer and going outside or to a window. Stare at a real flower, a real cloud, or the eyes of your housemate. Your eyes and your spirit will thank you.