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.
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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.