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Zoom fatigue is so very real, after nine months of video calls. Early in 2020, it felt like our only portal to the world we’d left behind – but now many of us are, quite frankly, over it.
Even Zoom’s chief operating officer, Aparna Bawa, acknowledged how we feel in an interview with the BBC in December. “When people talk about Zoom fatigue, the struggle is real, but it is not Zoom’s fault... You have to build wellness into your life, and take breaks [from the screen],” she argued.
And neuroscientists agree. Sophie Scott, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, tells HuffPost UK there are “significant disadvantages” to using Zoom for communication – at work or socially. “If you went to a pub with a friend you’d probably sit next to them rather than in front of them, explains Scott, whereas with Zoom, you’re face-to-face all the time.
“It’s very odd, it’s very strange.”
Zoom, and other video call systems, also “take away some of the main cues you use to co-ordinate a conversation, which are your eye gaze and breathing,” says Scott. If participants aren’t able to look into another’s eyes or sense their breathing while being able to actually see each other, it can be tough.
“Eye contact is very complex in conversation,” she says. “We use it to manage who’s going to speak, for emphasis, and to make sure you’ve got someone’s attention and to show you want their attention – and all that’s going on at the same time as you’re talking to them. Zoom takes that away.”
A more fulfilling emotional experience, then, could be a return to a traditional phone call. “It’s actually easier to cope without the stuff [you prioritise on Zoom], like the eye contact and face-to-face contact,” says Scott.
All of these additional, arguably needless, visual cues are ultimately what may cause Zoom fatigue. “Zoom calls feel more stressful than telephone calls because of the additional cognitive load, and the fear of looking foolish in front of others,” adds Doctor Gary Wood, social psychologist and author of Psychology of Wellbeing.
This cause stress which “can switch off some of our higher level cognitive factors, such as problem solving, putting together arguments and processing questions,” adds Dr Wood.
After a tumultuous year with technology, we might look to 2021 to discover a more balanced approach. After all, fatigue is literally overconsumption.
“We need to ask whether Zoom calls are always necessary, and if they are being used [to substitute] a lack of face-to-face contact,” concludes Dr Wood. “As we go forward, and online meetings continue, we need to ask, just because we can have a Zoom call, do we really need one? Sometimes an old-school phone call might be all we need.”
Next time you find yourself organising a Zoom call with a friend – why not suggest a traditional phone call, instead? You’ll probably both be grateful for it.
This new year, we focus on fun, not denial (because we’ve all had enough of that). Follow our month-long plan, with a new Here, Try This idea each day, spanning easy ways to engage your body and mind, inspiration for your food and home, and tips for boosting how you feel – inside and out.