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Frances Peck

Zoom Time

Woman with her back to us video calling with another woman on a large desktop screen.
Woman with her back to us video calling with another woman visible through a large desktop screen.
artinspiring © 123RF.com

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].

Whew.

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?

___

Previous post from Frances Peck: Vocation, Avocation: Margery Fee and Canadian Usage

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6 Comments on “Zoom Time”

  • Patricia Simmons

    says:

    Thanks for making me laugh, Frances! I’ve forwarded this to my partner whose full-time job entails more than 30 hours of video-chat TEAMS meetings per week, on top of emails and texts. He’s exhausted at the end of the day and week, and the usual outlets of watching tv, streaming films, surfing the web, or writing a blog no longer offer respite. We’ve been reading printed books, playing old-fashioned scrabble with the board and tiles, doing puzzles, and listening to music on the CD player. I suppose we often recognize limits by exceeding them! I’ve been online for too long this morning—I’m off to groom my dog while listening to the birds chirping outside. ?

    • Frances Peck

      says:

      I cannot imagine 30 hours of video chats per week. Week after week?? That seems like torture rather than team work. Such a good point that the online pastimes we’d usually turn to for release only compound the problem of Zoom fatigue. Analog leisure: who knew it’d be undergoing a renaissance?

  • Rosemary Shipton

    says:

    I’ve had several Zoom calls with clients, with my two business partners, and also meetings for a large charity board of directors. They’ve all worked efficiently and well, and I’ve welcomed seeing the faces, along with hearing the voices, of the other participants. I admit, too, to finding a certain fascination in the book shelves and the art works (or their absence) in the various backgrounds! For me, Zoom has been a boon – and I wish I’d bought shares in it months ago … All my calls have been sporadic, so I’ve not experienced the fatigue Frances describes, but can well imagine it. Before the summer break, some teachers I know were Zooming five hours a day with their students, and they found it exhausting. I suspect in future, much more work will be done from home, so Zoom and other equivalents are here to stay.

    • Frances Peck

      says:

      Looking at people’s backgrounds is a wonderful bonus, isn’t it? An American political writer tweeted a while back, tongue in cheek, something to the effect of: «If you aren’t displaying my book behind you during your Zoom calls, you are dead to me.» It still makes me laugh!

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    Thanks, Frances. So timely and so dead on.

    Everyone, be sure to click the link to the two-minute meeting on Zoom. So funny.

    • Frances Peck

      says:

      All the Olive and Mabel videos are delightful, even if you aren’t a dog person, which I’m not. (Apologies, dog lovers.)

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