If you're feeling a little tired these days, you're hardly alone. The various fatigues afflicting humanity just keep piling up. There's climate change fatigue. There's compassion fatigue. And let's not forget good old-fashioned fatigue-fatigue.
It seems we live in a world of a thousand sighs and sorrows.
And just when you thought we couldn't possibly find the time to be fatigued about anything else, along comes something fresh to wear us down: Zoom fatigue.
If you haven't heard of Zoom, it may not be because you're living under a rock. But because there's no WIFI under that rock. These days, as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps millions of people at home, just about anyone with internet access is using the video conferencing platform to stay connected. It's remarkably easy to use — just dial into a Zoom room and hello mom.
If you're willing to pay for it, you can cram as many as 500 people into a Zoom room. It's the perfect way for bosses to keep bossing, even as millions of employees work from home.
(Although we'd be remiss not to mention the litany of security issues plaguing Zoom.)
At the very least, the platform allows for visual check-ups on employees: Is that a fresh pillow wrinkle on your cheek? Is that a bottle of rye on your bed stand?
It can be fun too, with an ever-expanding range of fake backgrounds from tropical beaches to deep space. Heck you can even get married on Zoom. So why should we ever get tired of all the fun, frolic and supervision from our corporate overseers — especially when there happens to be a pandemic making human connections incredibly hard to come by?
To put it simply: Your face has to work incredibly hard when there's a camera on it. Also, we probably take for granted the sheer weirdness of interacting virtually with humans.
As Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, tells USA Today, there's nothing natural about a face hovering on a screen speaking to you as if you were right there in the room. Your brain isn't accustomed to so much direct eye contact — and faces are far closer than they ought to be, not to mention weirdly enlarged . You can't blame your brain for panicking a little.
"Our brains have evolved to have a very intense reaction when you have a close face to you," Bailenson says.
When people interact in person, he explains, their faces don't normally hover so disturbingly close. Eye contact is a little more subtle — a very intricate dance, and we're very good at it."
We dart our eyes strategically, changing our perspective regularly. We don't just stand there staring at each other's faces for what seems like forever.
Ironically, it all adds up to a sense of disconnection.
"Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not," Gianpiero Petriglieri, a professor at the European-based business school Insead tells the BBC. "That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally."
What's more, we have to work a lot harder to assure people on the other end that we're actually paying attention. That's your face's burden to bear — from wide-eyed enthusiasm to the arched eyebrow of keen interest. If you're the type of person who likes to keep things slack, well, you really should stick with Slack.
At least, with that text-and-emoji-based platform, you won't have to deal with the terrible strain that is the silent moment. What happens when we run out of words on Zoom? How do you feign interest when you're just staring at each other? Silence, a natural, necessary and welcome pause in real-life conversations, suddenly becomes a torment.
"When it happens in a video call, you become anxious about the technology," Petriglieri adds.
Can we end this meeting already? But there's the rub. A Zoom meeting's much anticipated conclusion is fraught with peril.
"With your friends, you can be more brash and say 'I'm going now,' " IT consultant Mark Ioannou tells the Wall Street Journal. "But work calls can go on, and no one wants to be the one to close them. Everyone's looking at each other, like, uh it's a bit awkward."
And when everyone somehow manages to agree that it's finally time to end that meeting, even more awkwardness ensues. People literally run for the exit. Who wants to be the last person in the meeting room — the one who can't find the icon in the BOTTOM RIGHT CORNER?
"Everyone's desperately looking for the leave-meeting button," Rob Ralston of the University of Edinburgh, tells the Wall Street Journal.
"There's a mad scramble not to be the last person on the call with the host."
Does all of that sound a tad exhausting to you? Don't even think about taking a nap. Because there's probably another Zoom meeting scheduled in half an hour — and you definitely don't want to show up with a pillow imprint on your face.
Look sharp. And if you need inspiration, check out the video below, as Preston Reid hilariously takes us through the most common Zoom personalities.
Go ahead and borrow one for the next meeting.