Zoom Exhaustion

Maya Barany, Writer

I have never liked video calls. From Netflix to Twitch, Skype to YouTube, video services make up 80% of all internet consumer traffic. It makes sense that in this time of confusion we want to see other people living normally. And in turn, we feign regularity with others through video. However, video calling simply doesn’t feel real or normal. Being an overly self analytical introvert, here are the reasons I find video calling weird. Hopefully finding humor in this situation will ease at least a little bit of tension. Or it might just make it worse!

On Zoom, every bit of social context is gone. In ordinary situations, you need different places to talk to different people. In my entire life, I’ve never considered talking to a teacher, counselor, or doctor from my room, and because of this, I haven’t gone through any mental preparation of what to do in that situation. For example, I daydream constantly about what I would say in school presentations, about what I would say if I was being interviewed on the Ellen Show, about how I would act in an argument. I haven’t ever thought about talking to an authority figure from my phone. Honestly, I am more mentally prepared to go on national television and spill my life story than I am to send emails from my bed.

Classes bring a whole new level of awkwardness. It’s like watching a video, except the video is watching you. If you dare to make a noise, you’re blown up on the screen like a grand stage, your mute button off, the moment of pressure is on. The dramatic air of the digital lag lasts a lifetime after the question or comment. Whoever invented the mute button either deserves a medal or jail time. It’s so tempting to kill the anxiety of what my voice sounds like with the click of a button. If I do that though, the rest of the class is a guaranteed time to space off and not learn anything, not ask questions, and not contribute to group work at all.

The multitude of technical difficulties inevitably make video calling bad even in the best of times. It’s either too quiet or people are talking over each other from the lag. Unless the connection is sci-fi hologram perfect, lag effects will hinder the conversation 99 out of 100 times. It can be almost unbearable. Video-audio latency is detectable at a 50 millisecond difference, and at 200 milliseconds, the quality of a phone call, FaceTime, or video game deteriorates rapidly. With video calling, the lag time can often be over a second. This goes along with other frequent problems like data loss and jitter cutting out the first and last bits of a word, causing most video calls to sound choppy or have that robotic echo. The best we can do is recognize that it’s weird and awkward, and online school will never achieve the same flow that a normal class would, not even close.

Sometimes I wish I could just turn it all off, but eventually there is only so much to complain about, and we all need social contact. While texting can be a less intimidating conversation, it’s impersonal and rarely feels like socializing at all. Video calling is bumbling and awkward, but it’s actually pretty human sometimes.

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