In the article “The Zoom Gaze”, Autumn Caines discusses the present issue society faces with remote interactions and why they effect us so much. Caines goes into detail about the effects that frequent video conferencing has on the brain, our views of ourselves, as well as how it can be turned into a system of power and control. She goes on to explain that the reason we struggle so much with “video vertigo”, as she phrases it, is because we are forced to face what everyone else sees on camera and tempted to control how we appear.
The article was really interesting, however didn’t immediately grab my attention. I had already spent so much time looking up zoom fatigue and video vertigo; you can almost say I developed a “reading about zoom fatigue” fatigue…..but the part about seeing your own reflection in Zoom calls really spoke to me. I deal with general anxiety disorder, though I find that in many ways it clashes with my day to day life in ways I do not expect. Video chatting should be easy, even with a black screen visible to everyone else…though it isn’t. I accepted that about myself and it’s apparently called Scopophobia. In a setting that can control the outcome of my appearance, I’m good…but put me on a zoom call for an hour to talk about something I know very well with more than 5 people? Goodbye confidence,.
So basically, since the pandemic began, we’ve tried to replace face to face encounters with Zoom calls/web conferences… obviously, it hasn’t become a replacement for the very thing we humans thrive on. Though useful, the sort organizing a routine for planned conversations kind of sucks the fun out of the thing that makes face to face encounters so exciting: the possibility for anything to happen. While we still have that in conversation, it’s strange to think of anything else happening on a zoom call aside from the occasional slippage of background activity or Wi-fi disturbances and disconnections. Call me biased, but I can’t help but compare and feel despair over these comparisons that I make between Zoom classes and actual classes. I miss the possibility of someone walking into the wrong class and sitting in, then watching their face set with realization that they’re in the wrong class and watching them try to sneak out quietly. I miss making accidental friends over a missed assignment. I miss professors canceling class because they’re materials were left in another building and they just don’t feel like getting it (no offense, but I was not prepared for the constant preparedness of my grad professors). Damnit, I miss the chaos. Now, everything, right down to face-to-face encounters are predictable. Now I expect to see a bunch of black screens and I expect to smack the side of my head like a malfunctioning TV trying to refocus. I expect Wi-Fi to fail us and cause the conversations to flow awkwardly.
Worst of all, I expect to freak out for about 10 minutes before class with my surroundings, trying to make sure everything is “perfect”.
Anywho, she goes on to write: “This immediately confronts you with your own visibility: That is, you are forced to see yourself being seen….You are self-aware and self-correcting in real time.” She goes deeper into how your space suddenly becomes a stage and every piece in the frame, including yourself, becomes an objectified piece to be gazed at.
I don’t even know what to say to that….because, yeah. That is exactly what it is. Zoom calls being embedded so frequently into our schedules feels like a performance and “invites the idea that everything about our appearance can be customized and personally controlled”. It makes me wonder if this is where we’re heading with technology, and if this inclusion is becoming an invasion of the view we have of ourselves. It was interesting to read about Zoom erasing black skin in this article..I didn’t know that they did that. I thought my skin related issues with video calling were just “normal”. The article “Why We’re Exhausted by Zoom” by Susan Blum gave a more in-depth explanation of zoom fatigue and why we experience it. Though similar to what Autumn Caines was explaining about facing our reflection constantly, Susan Blum leads us into a conversation about how we perceive others and how we perceive ourselves via camera. “So all the communicative signs that embodied humans rely on are thinned, flattened, made more effortful or entirely impossible. Yet we interpret them anyway.”
Though we know this truth about zoom calls, we somehow still see to appease to the “zoom gaze”.
For example, I purposely avoided turning my camera on for zoom calls during class at one point because I had white walls. Now, white walls may seem like such an odd reason to not want to be seen; however, when you are dark-skinned and the vast majority of your space is extremely lighter than you, your image becomes distorted. Not to insult myself in anyway because I adore my skin, but I am no longer seen the way I believe I look when the camera focuses in on the white walls.
It’s a chaos that is unsettling and can’t be turned into a teaching moment.