I remember the first Zoom meeting I ever went on, nearly a year ago to today. I was 20, for once in my life my skin was clear, I had finally gotten my parents out of my room, and I was so excited. This felt like something that only grown-ups were going to be doing for the (at the time) foreseeable future. For once, I was in the cool kids club! But then, life happened. Over time, that excitement turned into dread. Did I get the email with the class link? Is anyone else in this waiting room with me? Why does the waiting room not have any music or activities, the way a doctor’s office would? And most importantly, when had everything changed? Zoom went from being fun to being a question fest, all because was everyone else thinking, seeing, and feeling other things that I couldn’t?
The key to understanding, and really making any strides with the article, “The Zoom Gaze” for me was understanding the concept of “Zoom fatigue.” Essentially, it means that there is a weariness that comes with being trapped in a box, on a screen for either scheduled or irregular intervals of time. Zoom fatigue means switching between apathy and hyper-awareness for the fact that others can manipulate how you are seen on their screen, be it visible or hidden, pinned or ordered to the bottom of the boxes. Another dimension of Zoom fatigue is the draining effects of being around others while having an easy out, but not being able to take it. I just want to establish where I stand in terms of my own Zoom experience, and therefore, Zoom fatigue. I’ll always show up to class when it isn’t overwhelming because that is the purpose for which I learned how to work with Zoom and intend to keep using it. But, I am tired of some of the content in school, and personal Zoom calls.
When it comes to the latter, I’m tired of hearing the “I miss yous” the “when this is all-overs” the “I wish we could do this thing” and above all else, “I just want things to be normal again.” I’m honestly tired of hearing other people in my home. I know, this is more along the lines of the conversation we’d have about surveillance tech like Proctorio, but I always hated having guests in my house, and Zoom, with everyone trying to figure out what’s on my bookcase or corkboard feels no different than a traditional nosey neighbor or Big Brother. Sometimes, not even powering off my device is enough to shake that feeling of being watched, evaluated, and judged by others in my natural habitat.
Going back to the article, let’s first discuss the idea of how there is still an inherent power structure available to users with the ability to drag-and-drop their virtual colleagues into whatever order they see fit, with no one else being able to know or see their screen. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this, but not for exclusionary purposes. Sometimes, folks would have distracting things in their backgrounds or have pets or family consistently walk into their frame, and therefore, I would just pin the video of my professor as a way to keep myself focused on the lecture or task at hand. Now, however, I can see how this can be used in an inequitable manner, one that leaves critical voices out of important virtual conversations. For one, it seems as though someone could decide that if other participants choose to leave their video off, they may not be seen as worthy of “sitting at the table” and can simply be “whooshed away.” There’s something in that sentiment that harkens back to the real-life feeling of being the kid peeking through library shelves at everyone else sitting at tables and messing around with their friends; I’m not really there, am I?
The idea of private messages as “side meetings” is something I found fascinating as well. I went to middle school during the era of everyone texting under the desk to make fun of teachers and classmates, and now that people can do whatever they want in a side chat with no way to moderate, it is both exciting and terrifying. The insecure little kid in me thinks, “what if they’re making fun of me,” and the immature adult I am thinks “Woah, I can use this to tell specific jokes to classmates who I know will get it!”
Moreover, there’s the spillover of Zoom habits, and a need to fulfill socialization needs that Zoom simply cannot meet in real-life that this article touched on, and I can see reflected in my own day-to-day life. It is frustrating to not be able to tell who is trying to make eye contact with you over video, and it is even more difficult to work around someone who sounds like they’re speaking underwater with a mouth full of marshmallows. Maybe that’s why I find myself slowly but surely enunciating my words and holding eye contact with others at work that is so intense it’s borderline uncomfortable. (Of course, we could also chalk up my speech to my hearing issues.)
Sure, there are days where I am absolutely drained after a Zoom call, no matter what the length of time is. After a two-hour-plus class meeting, I usually have to get up and jump around or eat a snack, but I need no one to speak to me for at least another hour or so. I’ll put on my instrumental music, usually something by Tosca or The Cinematic Orchestra, and I’ll just close my eyes and think or daydream, or eat some Goldfish and try to just exist and do my best not to think too critically or of anything at all if I can help it. At least now with the Devils playing, I have somewhat of a mind-numbing distraction. Sometimes, I just read game casts or watch with the TV on mute to orient myself, because hearing someone else just skeeves me out. I’ve started avoiding tech and other people unless I absolutely need to be around them.
It’s hard to keep a consistent mood and facial expression going in a Zoom meeting when I am on camera, and most of the time it’s rehearsed and not authentic. If you had “kid with a note reminding them to smile” on your bingo card, you’re in luck and can thank me later! It bleeds over into real-life as well; lately, I haven’t really been myself. It’s hard to separate my digital self and real-self when it feels like I’ll have to make the transition between the two at any moment. But, I’ve been getting better about it. (Here comes that shot of optimism.) I’m still discovering the virtue of slowing down, and for me, a part of that is being very point-blank with my feelings. I’m getting better at setting boundaries and letting people know when I don’t want to talk or meet virtually. I let folks know when they say something I’m tired of hearing. Sometimes, I even just let my face do the talking!
Sure, Zoom has been a lifesaver, but it’s really blurred the lines between home, work, and school, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. There’s something extremely amusing and disturbing about the fact that my bed is right next to the classroom/office area of my room, so I get to wake up facing the very thing I both love and dread most. I’ll cap it here, recommend you listen to “A Change Would Do You Good,” and see ya in a few hours! (The music video and lyrics are very synthesizing of this discussion.) Oh, and check out my favorite six-word story I created for this week!