I feel it. No doubt you do too. The itch to throw off the mask and go back to the office, go on vacation, down a few with friends at your local bar, or just hang out at your kid’s school. Many are now braving is as restrictions ease up all over the country. Many are still wary. Some countries are almost back to ‘normal,’ others are in dire straits and most of us are somewhere in between. And then there are the few that seem to be regressing.....
We knew a pandemic would come–microbes are too smart to leave us alone for long–and in the end, they will survive us. How well we remember the early part of the journey when the first few reports starting trickling in with a warning about a new coronavirus thousands of miles away in Hunan, China, that was killing some of its victims and laying low many more. With the first report of a case in the US, I felt a chill, as I did when Ebola, SARS and MERS first showed up here a few years earlier. Having worked in healthcare for most of my life, and being a futurist with infectious disease experience, I knew the day would come when we would be locked in our homes for an extended periods trying to avoid some little-understood pathogen on a mission to survive at all costs, infecting as many as it could along the way. The ideal scenario from a bug’s perspective would be to transmit between hosts easily, but not to kill too many of its hosts. Pain and suffering are not the intent for a virus, but they usually come with the territory. COVID-19 fits the bill.
So here we are, almost 18 months after the first US cases. Millions have been sick, many have died and the rest of us have been talking to our computers for hours every day. Zoom calls are handy, and some familieshave embraced them as a way to extend their connections during the crisis. But for many, there is a certainvirtual fatigue that has set in, where we crave a real human connection; a good old-fashioned hug with friends and family, or a simple office-gathering with work colleagues. If you feel zoom fatigue, you are not alone. You can even sign up to be part of a study looking to create a scale for Zoom fatigue. A recent peer-reviewed paper looked at the causes for zoom fatigue and came up with 4 major causes. Based on their research, they say we should expect to be tired after a string of virtual calls for these reasons:
1. The intensity of close-up eye contact. In video calls we are always “on”. In a real world conversations we write notes, stare in all directions, look at our screen occasionally, and rarely stare at the person we are talking to 100% of the time. Think about how strange it would be if we looked at each other the whole time when we are all sitting around a real world conference table. Having prolonged eye contact in any situation is overwhelming, and on a zoom call there is no getting away from it
2. Looking at yourself all day, every day. The author says,” “It’s taxing on us. It’s stressful. And there’s lots of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror.” It’s not usual for humans to look at themselves all day. Hiding the image of yourself or turning the camera off for a few minutes here and there can be helpful
3. We are immobile during calls. According to the paper there is growing evidence that when people move they perform better cognitively. Getting up and walking around occasionally after a long spell on video chat can reduce stress and tiredness associated with zoom fatigue
4. Cognitive load is higher in video chats. We are always interpreting others and being interpreted by others. However, on zoom it is harder to understand gestures and read emotions which causes stress and fatigue. Again, occasional short off-screen breaks can help.
Video chat companies are also looking at ways to reduce these challenges. As social isolation is replaced by more in-person activities and gatherings, we should all start to feel the stress of zoom wear off. However, video call are definitely here to stay. For me, there are elements of zoom I really appreciate more than face to face meetings. Zoom gives a more intimate view of the person on screen than an in-office visit. You see dogs, children, significant others wandering about in the background. You see the home environment and get a sense of the realness of that other person in spite of the impersonality of the platform. Everything has its good and bad, and as always, the trick is finding the right balance.