By Lara Moamar
Why is Zoom so draining? For over a year now Zoom has been pushed to the centre of our university experience and after using it for everything from lectures to socials it is safe to say the novelty has worn off. Whether it’s dreading the awkward silences of breakout rooms, turning your camera on at 9am or the continual checks that you’re muted, we’ve all felt somewhat drained after a day on Zoom.
Through the first peer-reviewed article to address this topic, Stanford University researcher Professor Jeremy Bailenson sought to outline the causes of this ‘Zoom fatigue’ from a psychological perspective. His research outlined four main factors that contribute to our feelings of physical and mental taxation.
Most obviously using Zoom for most of our academic and social interactions has greatly reduced our physical mobility. Throughout these video calls we feel obliged to remain rooted in our spot and the normal periods we would spend walking outside to classes has been cut. It is no surprise that this lack of mobility has been scientifically proven to affect our brain activity and performance.
Other than the serious eye strain caused by staring at screens for a long period, Bailenson’s research identifies the negative mental impact caused by the excessive eye contact we make in video chats. Bailenson talks of how the large size of faces on our screens ‘simulates a personal space that you normally experience when you’re with somebody intimately’, leading the brain to remain in a heightened and alert state.
Additionally, his research covers the draining feeling of self-consciousness as we stare at our reflection for long periods of time. Previously, talking with other people face to face or taking notes in a class was done absentmindedly but now we are met with our continual reflection and the unfortunate opportunity to scrutinise ourselves. This has inevitably led to self-esteem issues and a tendency to over criticise our appearance on and off-screen.
Lastly, the final reason Bailenson outlines is the difficulty of understanding social cues in a video call setting. We are used to analysing body language in a natural face-to-face conversation however translated over Zoom this process becomes much more difficult. For example, while talking over each other accidentally in conversation is natural, over Zoom it becomes a process of awkward staring to gauge whether the other person wants to speak first. We also feel the need to exaggerate our own gestures such as nodding or smiling on camera to ensure that the other person is aware of our response, making the conversation feel all the more artificial.
Bailenson’s research of ‘Zoom fatigue’ is definitely enlightening, pointing to causes that affect us subconsciously and his research has been followed by significant interest, inspiring more innovative research about the effects of video conference calls. However, I personally feel that ‘Zoom fatigue’ is about more than just the use of the platform itself: it is tied to a sense of pandemic or lockdown fatigue in general. Zoom has become a staple of the Covid-19 nightmare and its continual use only reminds us of what we’re missing out on if that event or social had actually taken place in person.
Of course, over the past year Zoom has been vital for communication that otherwise would have been impossible, but it has definitely become associated with our feelings of boredom, isolation, and at times hopelessness.
Its successful use over the last year has ensured that Zoom is here to stay in a post-Covid world. Though it can be tiring to use all day, using Zoom every once in a while for a single interview or feedback session could be helpful. However, with everything going on at the moment, the very mention of Zoom is met with a sigh and a sense of resignation.
Image: Sara Mortsell via Creative Commons