Frozen faces and looking at your own double chin: video conferences are exhausting. With “Zoom Fatigue” this overwhelmed state of the corona pandemic already has a name.
Who still needs the world out there? Not us, say the organizers of award ceremonies and festivals in a mixture of defiance and pragmatism and proudly announce that their events will take place completely digitally this year. Video conferences will replace the face-to-face encounter.
For the postmodern knowledge worker, the corona pandemic is the uninvited proof of how much we have become virtual beings over the past few years. The technology in the form of zoom, Skype and Whatsapp once again helps people to overcome annoying biological constraints.
After five weeks of self-isolation – or is it six? – however, people’s enthusiasm seems to be waning considerably. Anyone who has been sitting in changing video conferences six hours a day or who has been invited to a virtual drinking party for the umpteenth time knows the feeling. Because people today have enough experience with overworked conditions, there is already a name for the new dysfunction: Zoom Fatigue – named after the software, the number of users of which rose from ten million last December to more than 300 million.
But where does this fatigue come from? Because the medium is the message as always, it is worth thinking about the peculiarities of video communication. For example, there is the fact that video chat participants can never really look each other in the eye. So that the other person has the feeling of being viewed, you have to look directly into the camera. Which in turn means that the conversation partner gets out of sight.
Technology philosopher Michael Sacasas describes this state as the “uncanny valley” of communication. That eerie valley describes the effect that the acceptance of technology increases from a certain degree of simulated authenticity instead of increasing. And video conferencing also offers a whole range of practical examples of this phenomenon away from frozen faces. For example the fact that when the camera is switched on, you can always see yourself in a small window at the bottom of the picture. So you become an equally observing subject and object of observation. Not to mention that your own webcam is rarely set at an advantageous angle on your own face. Looking at your own double chin for hours can certainly make you feel inadequate.
Then of course there are even more obvious peculiarities. It is harder to cancel appointments with excuses, because everyone knows that you are only in quarantine at home anyway. In contrast, the sometimes rather painful simulation of proximity weighs more heavily. Every time we turn on the software, it literally shows us what is no longer there, what is no longer allowed to be. Of course, this applies more to video conversations with parents who have been missing their grandchildren for weeks than to weekly conversations with their superiors.
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Those messages that have otherwise been annoyingly clicked promise comfort. It is the automated birthday wishes, the promises of discounts and subscription calls from banks, car rental companies and mail order companies that remind us that there really was a “before”. In times of permanent bad news, an advertising e-mail that comes into your inbox without being asked can be incredibly touching. Despite the crisis, the scripts and programs that send the spam seem to just keep going. Just as if someone in the distribution centers of the global advertising industry had forgotten to press the off switch before they switched off the lights and left the home office.