Are you suffering from Zoom Gloom?
Okay, so it seems to me that the whole world, its friends and their dog are currently spending an inordinate amount of time on Zoom (or equivalent) and loving it.
Me? Not so much. And it brought me to some introspection and to wonder why. Why is, seemingly, everyone else okay or even ecstatic with it and all I feel is vaguely anxious and disorientated. Before, during and after!
Perhaps you do too?
First of all, some of this depends on how introvert or extrovert you are. Do you even know, in a quantifiable sense, which you are?
Would you like to know?
I am what is known as an INFJ. And my “I” is 72%. (That’s high, trust me!) If you know anything about Carl Jung/Myers Briggs you’ll get how much human interaction generally drains me of energy and how much “me” time I need to recuperate. If you don’t know anything – or much – about Jung/Myers Briggs go online and do this test: HumanMetrics email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your results (4 letters and each of their percentages) and I’ll email you back some info that, I swear, you’ll think is written specifically with you in mind.
It’s fascinating stuff.
So, why do some of us really dislike videoconferencing in all its forms?
We communicate in all sorts of ways, not just verbal, all the time, even when things are seemingly quiet. Body language, eye language, all sorts of non-verbals. We know, for instance, when we have upset someone close to us because it’s their body and eye language that we are “reading”, they don’t need to shout or show anger; we know.
We derive really important meaning from dozens of non-verbal cues, such as whether someone is facing you or slightly turned away, if they’re fidgeting while you talk, or if they inhale quickly in preparation to interrupt.
These cues help paint a holistic picture of what is being conveyed and what’s expected in response from the listener. Since humans evolved as social animals, perceiving these cues comes naturally to most of us, takes little conscious effort to understand, and can lay the groundwork for emotional intimacy.
However, a typical video call impairs these ingrained abilities, and requires sustained and intense attention to the actual words instead. If a person is framed only from the shoulders up, the possibility of viewing hand gestures or other body language is eliminated. If the video quality is poor or, worse, drops out completely – any hope of gleaning something from minute facial expressions is dashed.
For somebody who’s really dependent on those non-verbal cues, it can be a big drain not to have them. Prolonged eye contact has become the strongest facial cue readily available, and it can feel threatening or overly intimate if held too long.
And oh! Multi-person screens magnify this exhausting problem. Gallery view—where all meeting participants appear Blankety-Blank style (if you even remember it!) challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once that no one comes through meaningfully; not even the speaker.
A collection of pixels is no substitute for a real-life human being.
And what’s the etiquette on virtual interruptions or interjections? Raise your hand and feel like a 4-year-old? Unmute yourself and just start speaking? Just don’t interrupt, no matter what the other person is saying? It all adds to the zoom gloom.
And then, if you do interrupt either inadvertently (you thought the other person had finished but they were, apparently, just gathering their thoughts) or on purpose, and there’s a few seconds delay after you’ve pressed unmute? Toe-curling stuff. Or is that just me? (Always possible.)
This gets at another reason for video chat fatigue. You have to look at each other’s faces the entire time! There are rarely natural breaks in conversation on Zoom, as there might be during a typical group dinner or coffee date, and it’s much harder to have a comfortable silence (or manage an uncomfortable one) when all parties are staring at one another nonstop.
There’s no peeking out a window, no studying a menu, no people-watching, no helping out in the kitchen or asking about a host’s record collection. There’s only talking, and in a video chat with more than two participants, striking a normal conversational rhythm is nearly impossible. Add in differing internet lag times and the inability to hear multiple people speaking at once, and every group discussion becomes group “Wait, what was that?,” “Sorry, you go ahead,” and “Hang on, you just froze.”
Every Zoom call reminds me of what I am missing – reality! Hugs, little touches, personal connection in the truest sense.
Whether it’s a social videocall or a professional one, virtual hours are not happy hours!
In Zoom on a social vc we feel we must portray the best moments of our lives. In a 30 minute chat, we’re presenting the best possible version of ourselves — then we turn off the chat and go back to reality. Digital fatigue.
Is that really my neck?
I hadn’t realised what a wattle neck I seem to be developing until a couple of weeks ago. And I’m never wearing that shirt again, trust me!
Video that lacks the traditional camera apertures and depth on which the image is captured (meaning the cameras on cellphones and laptops) can distort your appearance. While not quite to the level of a funhouse mirror, features are enlarged and (as with any video) small movements can be exaggerated, making you appear like Kermit on caffeine.
Zoom even offers a filter to improve your appearance!! I think it’s going to take more than a Swiss Alp in the background to stop me doing the double chin exercises.
So it makes all of us so much more aware of our appearance – to a super self-critical level. Not good. Not helpful. And very distracting!
And the worse thing is? There’s no excuse not to join in except to admit that, you social pariah you, they drain you.
So, if this does apply to you, choose wisely, don’t participate unless you actually want to and, for those loved ones of yours who love to see your wattle neck in all its glory, limit the amount of screen time. If you know even 10 minutes is your limit, limit it. Small doses relatively often are easier to cope with than long sessions. And be honest about it.
Katie Gardner is a fully-qualified CBT Counsellor and 11-year expat based on the border of 47/24. She has a regular advice column in The Local Buzz magazine which can also be read online.