From my scheduled chats with friends and family to weekly Toastmasters meetings or Sunday morning crafting calls, my calendar now seems increasingly filled with Zoom appointments (and those are just the fun ones, not counting the Heart Sisters-related meetings with people I don’t even know, like researchers, students or media). I thought at first that my own Zoom fatigue* – yes, even chatting with those I know and love – was due to adjusting to the differences between video calls and in-person communication.
But then I read an intriguing essay by Dr. Evan Selinger called The Problem Isn’t Zoom Fatigue — It’s Mourning Life as We Knew It. . .
Dr. Selinger, a philosophy professor and co-author (with Brett Frischmann) of the book, “Re-Engineering Humanity”, discusses both the advantages (celebrating birthdays, playing games, catching up with friends and family) and the disadvantages (sheer exhaustion) of communicating by telepresence during this surreal period of pandemic self-isolation.
But then he gets to the meat and potatoes of his message, arguing that Zoom burnout may be due to something we’re not even acknowledging, something he calls the “unspoken sadness” whenever we join a video call. He explains:
“Don’t get me wrong. A locked-down world without video calls would be significantly worse — more socially isolating and economically devastating. What makes the situation especially fraught is that we’ve accepted the wrong explanation of the problem.
“The issue isn’t just about technological mediation. Our ‘burnout’ is largely due to the depressing thoughts the pandemic brings to mind during every online conversation that substitutes for one we’d prefer to have in person.”
He then suggests that each video call to someone you wish you could see in person – but can’t – serves as a reminder of “a world that’s been shattered and can’t be revived.”
He also warns that blaming Zoom fatigue on surface issues (like sitting for a long time in the same position, adding more screen time to our hyper-screened lives, or the self-consciousness of being simultaneously the subject and object of attention to those tiny faces in gallery view) may be “a big mistake”. Instead, he offers this observation:
“A root cause of our collective tiredness is the painful awareness that life can’t go back to normal.”
The term “painful awareness” reminded me of this personal example: at my family birthday picnic last month, our five-year old granddaughter Everly Rose spent much of the picnic hiding under a blanket, refusing to look at or speak to any relatives except her parents. As her grandmother, I felt confused by this puzzling behaviour coming from our usually outgoing and charming little girl.
A few days later, in another attempt at a short outdoor visit with her, our same small family group met on her driveway early one evening. We could see Rosie at the living room window, but she refused to come out onto the front porch to say hello. Her Daddy tried to coax her out, but nothing worked. He went inside to find out why, then soon returned to tell us that she didn’t want to come out to see her family “because I can’t hug or kiss them” .
It seems that, just as Dr. Selinger observed that turning on a video chat can reinforce depressing thoughts that this pandemic brings to mind, to Rosie, simply seeing her family members close up seemed too painful a reminder of how pandemic precautions were affecting her. UPDATE: since then, she now seems to be warming up to the notion that she can feel sad about not being able to hug or kiss us, but still be allowed to talk to us from afar.
Meanwhile, other academics also share Dr. Selinger’s concerns when it comes to work-related video chats. Dr. Gianpiero Petriglieri, who teaches at the graduate business school INSEAD, believes that feeling forced to participate in video calls contributes to this fatigue:
“The video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily. Every time you see your colleagues online, it reminds you that we should really be in the workplace together. We’re all exhausted, both introverts and extroverts. We are experiencing the same disruption of the familiar during this pandemic.”
The reader feedback on social media in response to Dr. Selinger’s essay was as interesting as his original essay. Here’s a small sampling of opinions on his theory of “mourning life as we knew it”:
“It’s the change. Any change can trigger the stress response in our mind and body and can bring to the surface unresolved issues that we kept in check through busi-ness. Add to this change the underlying feeling of risk to safety. A lot to process…”.“This puts into beautiful words exactly how I feel about Zoom. I want a real relationship with my ill mother in her nursing home in what might be her last year, not her reaching forward to kiss a screen. I want to hold her hand, stroke her hair, be with her.”.“This is especially true for teachers. It was great to see students at first, but once the reality set in that I would not see them in person as they move on to high school, the weekly meetings became more stressful for me.“.“Video calls were a great tool before the pandemic. They were a convenient, easy, fun way to interact with people far away such as family, friends or work contacts. Then it was a choice. The difference now is that this is not a choice. It’s all we have.”.“Zoom reminds us we are not hugging the person we want to hug because we are looking at them on the screen.”
“The Zoom video calls I have to do are never with people I want to see in person.”.“As a deaf person, I have a slightly different perspective. Even with decades of TV in our lives, our eyes still work to discern the vision before us in 3-D. All of the video chats are 2-D and our eyes tire more quickly. The emotional context depends on whom you are talking to.“.“Video calls were exhausting way before COVID-19. It’s because someone’s watching you so there’s more of a performance element to the whole thing, a need to ‘be on’ that creates a constant stress. Plus you’re often stuck at the computer and making eye contact with nothing.”.“Not all of us feel that way. I prefer video conferencing. It relieves pressure for those of us who are introverts. Bonus: you can stop the video and maintain audio. Best of both worlds for me.“.“I am so glad that I can talk to family across the country using Zoom. I think we complain too much. This is our situation, we need to deal with it. We are so fortunate. Read up on the Black Plague if you have any doubts.”.“Talking about ‘mourning’ is exaggerating. We mourn someone/something we lost, ultimately someone/something we will never got back. It’s final. This situation is temporary. It won’t last forever. Things will be back to normal one day, sooner or later. All pandemics end.”
Image: Prettysleepy, Pixabay
Q: Are you doing more or fewer video chats these days, and why?