If your job allows you to work from home, or if your friends and family want to recreate a get-together as best they can during the COVID-19 outbreak, it's likely you've used the video chat program Zoom. It's free, it's simple, and it's kind of like starring in your own version of Hollywood Squares. There comes a time, though, when the thought of hopping on a Zoom call fills you with more dread than anything else. Why is something that's supposed to connect us instead so incredibly draining?
We've got a real term for it, more or less: Zoom fatigue. Scientists already understand it too. It's much the same reason you're exhausted in general from self-quarantining. When we have conversations in person, we're paying attention to a lot more than what our partner is saying — we're watching facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, clues from our environment, and all kinds of other, silent information that inform the interaction. Talking to someone through a screen, however, strips away most of that context. The image is smaller than a real person, the sound quality isn't as conducive, the connection sometimes disrupts your focus.
All the while, you're still straining to pick up those other little things that make you feel connected to a human person. Doing the talking isn't easier either: "It's almost like you're emoting more because you're just a little box on a screen," one Zoom user told National Geographic. So if you're starting to avoid video chats in favor of simple phone calls (which millennials famously despise), you're not alone — and your brain thanks you for giving it a rest.