At the beginning of the pandemic, video conferencing was still kind of exciting. We could roll our eyes in a good-natured way as older relatives and coworkers set up their microphones, or waste some time with fun filters and backgrounds before moving on with our business. Now, Zoom or FaceTime or Skype is apt to provoke loathing — it makes you feel kind of dead inside. But we still need it to get through our day, at work and with our loved ones and friends.
Psychologists at Stanford University may have some helpful tips for us. Researchers have just published a study on what causes so-called Zoom fatigue, which can in turn help us work around it. Even a little bit of video chatting, especially on the regular, can turn our brains to mush, it turns out. Things like intense eye contact, watching yourself, sitting still for too long, and processing too much information are an evolutionary shortcut to tuning out.
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The Stanford team has four suggestions that might help us ease up on the experience.
- Put some distance between yourself and the faces onscreen, both by keeping the relevant windows small and by sitting back from the screen.
- Hide the video stream which shows yourself, once you've checked that you're presentable to everyone else.
- Allow yourself to turn off your video feed at acceptable points in a long, large call to rest your eyes and move around.
- Go "audio only" for a bit. "This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen," said lead author Jeremy Bailenson, "so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless."