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'Zoom Fatigue' Turning a Lifeline Into a Fetter

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Apr 23, 2020

With so many now working from home, teleconference software like Zoom is seeing record use, a development which is also creating what the BBC is calling "Zoom fatigue," that is, a general burnt-out and overwhelming feeling from all the calls we've been on. From work meetings that used to be face to face to weekly family conferences to just friendly chats, people are getting more than their fill of talking to other people through a laptop screen. Besides the sheer quantity, the BBC notes that teleconferencing clashes with our natural patterns of interaction, which causes stress.

For instance, because we're not in the same room as people, we can't rely as much on body language as we normally do, which means we have to devote extra mental energy to pick up the interpretive slack. Similarly, pauses and delays, normally used to set the pace in a face-to-face chat, start carrying ambiguous meanings: Are they not saying anything because your joke fell flat, or because their network is wonky? Are they done with their sentence or are they just buffering? Another problem is that, unlike in most conversations, we can actually see ourselves when we talk, which can have the effect of making us self-conscious and putting us in a more performative mindset, which can be exhausting.

However, the BBC also noted that people are generally more anxious and stressed than usual, and so while the software is certainly contributing to the awkwardness of conversation, it's not the sole factor.

Two workplace experts interviewed by the BBC recommend that people think extra hard whether a video conference is necessary, or whether an email or some shared document would be more efficient. And further, they say, if you do need to conference, think about whether it is necessary to see each other to get things done. Finally, the BBC said to avoid scheduling Zoom meetings back to back; fatigue can be lessened if you take short breaks between.