Video calls, why ARE they so exhausting?


2020, the year of the Zoom call. The year of virtual meetings, virtual quizzes, virtual catch-ups, virtual workouts (well, Instagram LIVEs lol), virtual ‘pub’ nights, virtual concerts. The whole world locked down and online. Every in-person event cancelled and moved online. Bit weird isn’t it?

It was fun to start off with, the virtual pub nights, Houseparty – the app that lived fast and died young – and everybody was well up for quizzes for at least the first 16 of them. Now, we’re in our second national lockdown and the whole of the UK sighs a sigh of desperation as the virtual quiz is suggested again and video calls are, once more, the only way to chat to friends and family. The whole office environment disappeared over night and entire organisations moved all their communication online. My 97 year old Grandma knows how to FaceTime… it’s mental if you really think about it. Even dating is online as apps have rapidly adapted to include new ‘video chat’ features. Imagine this time last year telling your current self that you’d have attended approx 67.5 virtual events, spent approx 7689 hours on Zoom and you spent more time caring about your Zoom background than you did your next Instagram post…

We’ve all become used to video calls being part of our day to day lives now of course but the fatigue is reeeeeal. My work day is, sometimes, basically one long Teams call and on those particular days I always feel really, really tired. Am sure that in person meetings never did that to me (although maybe I’ve a rose tinted view on that). Why is that? I’ve done some research (obviously) and to put it simply, when on video chat it is more harder to process non verbal cues so we have to pay more attention and basically is uses more energy (so yes go have another coffee you deserve it x). 

Essentially, everything we’ve ever learnt about socialising and communication in person has been completely destroyed and we’re having to relearn social cues, relearn non-verbal cues (or the lack there of), and basically relearn how to read someone when we can only see their face and their choice of background (which is likely to be something super distracting). 

Non-verbal cues and communication are the little things like eye contact, gestures and posture that can communicate a lot about a person before they actually say anything. Most of them, then, disappear when you move online. You can’t make eye contact. You can’t really see someone’s posture. You can probably only see a very fuzzy, small image of somebody’s face and therefore might not be able to interpret their facial expression. So it’s much harder to understand what somebody is something, or how they want to say it. And, you yourself have to use much more jarring and obvious ways to communicate. You can’t necessarily just nod or smile like you can in person as it may be missed. Unmuting yourself to say ‘yeah’ quickly to show that you’re listening is something of an olympic sport. Miss the moment and you’re done. (Also why is it still funny when somebody forgets to unmute and everyone else simultaneously goes ‘YOU’RE ON MUTE!’?!) You also don’t have eye contact on your side. You can’t make eye contact with someone to suggest you want to speak, you can’t catch your pals eye to say ‘I know right’, you are literally staring at pixels (usually of a pretty shit quality) on a screen. 

I’m usually alright at making my voice heard in a room of people but I’ve really struggled with it on video chats. I find I get way more nervous and anxious to speak up than I would in person. I can’t move forward slightly in my chair when I’ve got something to say so people know I want to say something. We have to very purposely unmute ourselves and actually say something (and hope that the wifi doesn’t stop working at that exact moment). We had a conversation about this at work and I think it’s pretty clear that the virtual environment actually makes it a lot easier for some people but a lot worse for others. I am in the bad side of it. 

As an extroverted person I find that video calls only fill a small whole that I have from the lack of socialising this year. On the one hand, it’s great to chat to people from work, catch up with my mates and see their beautiful faces but on the other hand I find that the energy I get from people around other people is virtually (pardon the pun) impossible to achieve over a video call. It actually drains more energy than it provides. 

And this leads me on to the point that it’s not just about the lack of non verbal cues that make video calls quite draining. In this article written by the BBC I found this point quite hard hitting. Gianpiero Petriglieri, an Associate Professor at Insead, says ‘the video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily. It is the distress that every time you see someone online, that reminds you we should really be [together]’. And whilst this is a bit dramatic, I really do think he’s got a point. It’s like, when I see my team on calls I often wish I could see them in person and share our Netflix recommendations over our morning coffees. Or like when I FaceTime my cat (I’m not joking) I find myself feeling soooo angry about the fact that I can’t reach out and give her a cuddle. And when I organise a catch up with my pals I really do wish we were sharing the bottle of wine (partly so I don’t just drink the whole thing myself)…

Petriglieri also says ‘most of our social roles happen in different places, but now the context has collapsed. Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t that weird? That’s what we’re doing now…’ isn’t that nuts?! Pretty much every single social interaction we have is in the exact same physical place. The other day I moved into the lounge to take a call and I felt like a new person (now who’s being dramatic lol). And for some reason I also end up taking social calls sat in bed but maybe that’s because otherwise it does feel a bit like work?

On a completely different note, you also have to look at your own face and isn’t that just a bit weird? Like imagine there being a mirror every time you spoke in real life showing what you look like, because that’s basically what it is. And also, horrifying to discover that the image you see is a mirror or what everyone else sees so you are basically guaranteed to look better in your own image than somebody else’s (sorry to break this one to you). 

Whilst I am very, very grateful for pretty much every video call I’ve had throughout the pandemic, and do suggest them to all my pals and also find days without many meetings a bit lonely (we strive for a happy medium ok) – there really is something to be said about video call fatigue. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, we continue to find innovative ways to move the world online and adapt to the virtual world we are living in. But, all I’m saying is, get me back to the office and the pub 2021 pls I’m counting on you x

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