Each year Merriam-Webster’s dictionary adds a list of new words and phrases which have become popular. I predict that one of the 2020 additions will be “Zoom fatigue”. It’s become a familiar phrase as we try to continue to work, learn and connect during this time of social distancing. In one of the many articles by media outlets on Zoom Fatigue, the BBC quoted Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at the Insead graduate business school: “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”
Anecdotally, people are reporting that participating in Zoom and other video-conferencing online meetings can be exhausting. The BBC cites Laura Dudley, an assistant clinical professor of applied psychology in the Bouvé College of Heath Sciences who talks of the challenges in making virtual “eye contact”. In order to do so, you must look at the camera on the computer, not into the virtual image of your colleague’s eyes. It’s one of the many adaptations our brains must make in order to participate in a virtual computer-aided conversation. We make these leaps of faith into the virtual world every time we click connect on a video conference call: we see the image of our colleague in their home, and make a decision to connect with that image as if they are located right next to us. It’s something that we do so often that it is absolutely second nature, but take a moment to think of all the work our brain must be doing to keep the illusion alive. It’s not surprising that we are tired.
There are also other considerations. Online video interactions create a kind of performance anxiety. Dr. Janine Hubbard, a St. John’s psychologist in a recent CBC article, “You keep looking at yourself and you feel like you’re performing on stage, and it makes you hyper-aware of all of your reactions.” She relates how she finds herself exhausted after a day of Zoom meetings.
In my own online Google Hangout team meetings, we have been dealing with many different challenges. Colleagues forget to turn their mic on when they’re talking or conversely, forget to turn it off and introduce a burst of background sound when they start shuffling papers. Connectivity is a constant issue. Taking turns to talk can be a challenge. There’s no way of using body language to signal that you have something to say. Trying to look attentive is an uphill battle; turning our cameras off unless we’re talking has become the norm to help cope. I often find myself looking at my image, wondering how tired and haggard I must appear after self-isolating for close to three months.
As online learning becomes more pervasive, I predict that these issues will become more prevalent — both for instructors and learners. There are questions that we as designers must ask. How does the video connection help learners? Is asynchronous video just as effective as a synchronous connection? Are there other ways of connecting and communicating which may be more effective?
Clearly, more research needs to be done, not only into the effectiveness of video conferencing as a learning tool, but also into the physical and psychological stresses it puts on the participants. I posit that other means of connecting may become more common: text and chat apps like Slack, or the tried and true telephone. Maybe we don’t always have to force our brain to perform the mental gymnastics of virtual “face-to-face” conversations.
CBC (2020, May 9) Feeling extra tired after a day of video chatting? A St. John’s psychologist says you’re not alone. Retrieved from:
Jiang, Manyu. (2020, April 22). The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. Retrieved from: