Oh, for those pre-pandemic days when “zoom” was just another word. For me, it mostly conjured up the “zoom-zoom” of that catchy Mazda ad. Once in a while, it was a video platform I used for teaching webinars or meeting authors about book projects. Now it’s a fatigue.
In the COVID-19 world, media outlets from CBC to BBC have been exploring the profound weariness reported by people from office workers to school kids whose days are filled with video meetings. “Zoom fatigue,” which afflicts users of all video-chat platforms, not just Zoom, is driving housebound citizens to their sofas, beds, meditation mats, comfy sweats and liquor cabinets in search of succour and recovery. If your pandemic calendar has been studded with video calls, chances are you know all about it.
Taxing video calls
The fatigue caught up with me one Friday this spring. In the previous four days, between online teaching, work meetings and personal catch-ups, I had logged 15 hours on Zoom. Friday morning, I woke up in a state of bone-deep exhaustion I’ve seldom experienced. I came this close to cancelling a (socially distanced) morning hike with a friend, but fortunately I didn’t. The hike was the single most rejuvenating thing I did all week, because — you guessed it — it yanked me out of the screen-sized world.
What, according to the experts, makes video calls more taxing than in-person meetings or phone calls?
- Pressure to perform because you’re being closely watched
- The sensation of many sets of eyes on you
- Fewer non-verbal cues to rely on than during in-person meetings
- Fear of being judged for your environment, decor, appearance
- Anxiety about the technology itself
- The unaccustomed merger of otherwise separate realms — work, learning, entertainment, socializing — into a single space
What’s more, the pandemic has pushed us to screens for many other purposes. During my debilitating week, besides the usual trifecta of email, Twitter and actual paid work (all of it on-screen), I read a lot of online material (much of it on how to use Zoom); did three workouts to YouTube videos; viewed three lectures in a psychology course I was taking; watched a one-hour documentary, two feature films, two hours of HGTV, and probably 10 hours of news, all on television; and played [number excised at author’s request] rounds of Scrabble Sprint online [link not supplied at author’s request; author not legally responsible for addictive behaviour that may ensue].
As writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant puts it, our COVID lives are governed by screens. And as Gray-Grant warns regularly on her blog, the hits of dopamine we get from constantly checking email, social media, news feeds, texts, blog posts and so forth may keep us pleasantly buzzed, but they lower our productivity and increase our stress.
Coping with Zoom fatigue
How to cope with Zoom fatigue? Besides the remedies noted in media coverage of the phenomenon, I’d suggest taking a moment each day to be grateful for the many upsides of video calling.
- It’s been indispensable during this worldwide health crisis. Without it, work, governance and volunteering would be severely curtailed. Schooling couldn’t happen, nor could medical and other appointments. There are friends and family we’d never see. We’d miss milestone events and feel more cut off than ever.
- For those who live in extreme social isolation, or who are sick, vulnerable, quarantined or mobility-restricted, seeing friendly faces in real time is, as this Guardian article notes, a blessing.
- For some, such as communications professional Pamela Findling, who is hearing-impaired, video meetings are easier to follow than in-person ones.
- We have unprecedented access to concerts, readings and other live events. Here in North Vancouver, I “attended” a concert, streamed from a Pennsylvania musician’s basement, along with my brother-in-law from Ottawa, also a fan. Together we enjoyed front-row seats, excellent sound and the ability to visit via Zoom’s chat function.
- Zoom sessions are now so ubiquitous they’re worthy of satire. This two-minute meeting is guaranteed to make you laugh — and isn’t laughter a welcome antidote to fatigue?
What about you? Have you been putting in much Zoom time?
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