What is Zoom Fatigue?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had effects reaching far beyond public health and the economy. Now that most events, tasks, and even studies have shifted to the world wide web, Stanford researchers have now warned about a new impending problem: Zoom Fatigue.
“Zooming” has become a common term to replace video calling, in the same way “Googling” has become synonymous with web searches. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) and his team studied the psychological impact of extended screen time prompted by the recent boom in videoconferencing and online classes. His study aimed to understand the extent of psychological damage zooming had on various age groups, particularly young, working people. It is in his research that the term “Zoom Fatigue” arose.
Zoom Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with the overuse of virtual platforms of communication, particularly videoconferencing. The pandemic has caused most employees to start working from home indefinitely, implying an inherent dependence on platforms like Zoom or Google Meet for important meetings and discussions that would otherwise happen in the conference room.
Below are 4 ways in which video chatting fatigues human beings:
- Excessive eye contact from a close range: It’s bad enough you have to stare at a screen for hours on end, but researchers posit that both the eye contact and the size of the faces on screen are unnatural. On video calls, multiple participants are staring at you continuously, dramatically increasing the amount of sustained eye contact. From a psychological perspective, this can be quite draining. Additionally, when a person’s face is so close to ours in real life, our brains interpret this as leading to either mating or conflict; both being equally intense activities. Until such platforms change their interface, researchers recommend making your Zoom screen small relative to the size of your monitor, in order to minimize face size.
- Being able to see yourself constantly in real-time: Most video conferencing platforms have a small window wherein you can see yourself. The longer the meet goes on, the more time you will have to spend looking at yourself. “In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that,” Bailenson noted. The team suggests hiding self-view to prevent this constant fatigue.
- Lowered mobility and increased stagnation: Video-chatting keeps us bound to a very small sphere of view, which does not allow for much movement. New research studies suggest that increased mobility in human beings enables better cognitive performance. To give yourself a brief, nonverbal rest, you can try turning off your video for sometime. Consider purchasing an external keyboard or camera so you can move around a bit.
- Video calls carry a much higher cognitive load: In-person conversations are one of the most common activities we as human beings participate in. But taking that action and flipping it on its head can be quite stressful, particularly if a lot of thought has to go into it. “You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.” says Bailenson. Make sure to take an “audio-only break”, and turn your body away from the screen for sometime, just to recharge your mental batteries.
Though the goal is not to vilify Zoom, scientists and researchers have suggested several measures that can be used to mitigate the harmful effects it can cause. The lead researcher on this study probably sums it up best: “Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to”.