For many people Zoom fatigue is very real. It has been studied by Jeremy Bailenson at Stanford University [see ‘‘Zoom fatigue’ brought into focus by Stanford study‘ in the FT on February 26th, 2021]. He found that one source of tiredness was the high level of self-evaluation that arises from continually having to look at a video of yourself. Of course, it is easy to fix by choosing not to display your own video on your screen. We all have two egos: one is our subjectivity or the physical sensations registered by our body via our senses; and, the other is our reputation or the reflection of ourselves which forms our social identity [see ‘A reflection on existentialism‘ on December 20th, 2017]. Gloria Orrigi describes this second self as not a simple reflection but one that is ‘warped, amplified, redacted and multiplied in the eyes of others’. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that being constantly exposed to the view of ourselves being seen by others over a video conference raises our level of fatigue as we subconsciously and constantly review the impression being made on others. Orrigi describes our reputation as being like the trail left by snails has they slither over surfaces. Our social interactions with others leave deposits in their minds that become an information trail that we cannot erase and can only partially control. The pandemic has forced many of our social interactions to be via the internet which means they also leave electronic trails over which we have little control and cannot erase; however, we probably worry less about these traces than we do those left in the minds of others. Perhaps that is why our conversations lack spontaneity when conducted via a Zoom call [see ‘Distancing ourselves from each other‘ on January 13th, 2021] or maybe it’s just because it’s very difficult to gossip on a video conference even using the ‘chat’ function. Robin Dunbar has suggested that the real reason language evolved in humans is to allow us to gossip and thus maintain the social cohesion. If we are suffering from a loss of social cohesion caused by a lack of gossip then it is likely our stress levels would be raised causing us further fatigue. So, maybe we should be picking up our phones and calling people for a chat instead of scheduling meetings on Zoom.
The picture is the photograph of me that others see when I switch off my camera in an internet call. It’s a selfie with which I am happy, for the moment anyway.
Robin Dunbar, Grooming, gossip and the evolution of language, London: Faber and Faber, 1996.
Gloria Origgi, Reputation: what it is and why it matters, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.