Ch 06: The Zoom Gaze

Mirror, Mirror On My Zoom

People don’t only have mirrors in their bedrooms, bathrooms or hallways. Honestly, people will make anything a mirror, to ensure that they (before anything else), look good and presentable to the other people. One would think that with the pandemic and a tiny amount of in-person interaction compared to before occurring, appearance wouldn’t be the thing everyone is still concerned about. But actually….wrong. Our faces can only be seen fully on the platform of video communication, and if masks are covering us otherwise, why not make sure we look good for the conference call? And besides that, why are we experiencing this new type of fatigue, a fatigue that beats road rage any day? Autumn Caines’ Real Life: The Zoom Gaze and Susan D. Blum’s Why We’re Exhausted by Zoom highlight the not-so-sweet reality of being at the mercy of Zoom (alongside the pandemic) and how it’s changing not only how we experience exhaustion, but how we see ourselves.

Susan Blum focuses on the positives and negatives of being part of a Zoom, whether you’re a teacher, business manager or student. She attempts to go at this topic with a neutral view, but it’s clear there is some type of bias towards the failures of Zoom. She only defines two benefits which are experiencing a type of replication to face-to-face interaction and having multimodal elements. However, Blum puts more light on the negatives of Zoom and how those negatives are leaving us users more fatigued than ever before. She begins by talking about how Zoom “hurts the superpower of anthropology.” The superpower? Ahhh yes, she means the ability to meet, touch, see, hear and sense personal and intimate human interaction…which, of course, we don’t have any more. That’s why the human race is struggling to keep up with this pandemic. Our superpower has been taken away for the most part, our battery is being depleted and just as we think we have found another life to keep us going, we lose it again…just like video game characters. With Zoom, comes a style of authoritarian discussion. You might have not seen it in that way before, but Zoom leaves us with no way of explaining and interacting in a democratic way. Instead, one person at a time can speak; causing a lack of rhythm in conversation which Blum says resonates in in-person conversation. It’s very difficult to bring about the idea of cooperation in a Zoom call. As a Kindergarten teacher, believe me…it’s a battle I have to fight every…single…day. There’s only confusion which constantly requires the attention of some form of clarification and fortunately, with classroom interaction, all these disadvantageous points are undoubtedly dismissed.

Taking a step away from the reason for exhaustion, Autumn Caines focuses on the Zoom gaze. It’s a new perception (I learned from her) where Zoom users make sure that everything visible in the camera and to others in the meeting are what the user wants everyone else to see. Would it be true? Not necessarily. What if some hidden secret is accidentally revealed? Can’t control it. What if there’s a blemish in the hair? He/she will look straight at their own screen, and fix it. No worries at all. But how effective is that? The idea that we want to be perceived a certain for those few minutes or hours, even if it doesn’t truly reflect who we are. Who is the lie really being told to? To others, or ourselves? Just like there was a caring gap created with remote working, learning, etc., there is now also a perception gap between your true self and your Zoom self. Zoom provides us with a type of customization and control that isn’t found with in-person interactions. Is that good or bad? I can’t really be a judge of that, but one thing is that, maybe the content of the discussion is sometimes lost in trying to set up the perfect stage for the Zoom call. Are the users really honing in on the importance of what is being taught or learned, or are they staring at their own screen, constantly checking in to see that the hair is set correctly, the makeup is good, the glasses are set properly, etc? Caines and Blum definitely talked about aspects of Zoom that maybe, I never realized (or maybe I did, but was just never able to give a name to it.) But whatever it may be, next time you enter a Zoom call, ask yourself: “Mirror, Mirror on my Zoom, how will everyone see my room?”

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