Not another Zoom call

It's not you, it's Zoom (but here are some solutions). Also, 7 other things worth your time.

People of Earth, and readers of Understandably, we’re all Zoomers now — in that we’ve spent an entire year, it sometimes seems, particpating in a neverending parade of pandemic-induced Zoom calls.

It’s exhausting — and now, new research out of Stanford University explains there are a few good reasons.

In short, it’s not just us; it’s Zoom.


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Writing the journal, Technology, Mind and Behavior, Stanford University researchers said they came up with four real, practical physical reasons why Zoom calls are more exhausting than in-person communication. I found this kind of fascinating, so let’s go through them quickly.

1. Too much eye contact.

We start with the fact that we’re too close to our screens, and we have image sizes set so that the people we’re talking with on Zoom calls are larger than they would be in person.

Get that close to someone in real life — the 24 to 36-inch personal space buffer — and, as lead researcher Jeremy Bailenson puts it: “Our brains interpret it as an intense situation that is either going to lead to mating or to conflict”

We’re sort of flying in the face of eons of evolution here. Besides the closeness, he writes, “the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats … is unnatural.”

  • Proposed solution: Take Zoom out of the full-screen option, and reduce the size of Zoom windows relative to your monitor (to reduce face size). Also, use an external keyboard. Personally, I find that I wind up putting my laptop on top of a box on the far side of my desk during Zoom calls helps, and taking notes by hand.

2. Seeing yourself all the time is kind of weird.

Often, the default setting on Zoom calls shows you what you look like, too. Maybe that’s good in the beginning, so you know if there’s a distracting laundry basket behind you, or to make sure you don’t have broccoli in your teeth, but for some people it gets old fast.

“In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback,” Bailenson said, “That would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that.”

  • Solution: Pretty easy, “hide self view.”

3. Total lack of movement.

I think I’ve overcome this one myself, as I also tend to do Zoom calls while I’m at a standing desk. But overall, video calls mean you have to stay in one place. There’s no walking around involved, or at least repositioning yourself in your chair without attracting a ton of attention.

“There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson said.

  • Solution: Get more distance between your face and the camera. And establish ground rules that allow people to turn off their cameras sometimes.

4. Much higher cognitive load.

In the real world, we communicate nonverbally all the time. But on Zoom, forget it. We have to do a lot more work to send and pick up on these nonverbal cues.

Humans have taken one of the most natural things in the world – an in-person conversation – and transformed it into something that involves a lot of thought:

“You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”

  • Solution: Take “audio only” breaks, where you not only turn off your camera, but physically turn away from the screen, and perhaps close your eyes,” Bailenson suggests, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”


7 other things worth your time

  • A French court found former President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence peddling on Monday and sentenced him to a year in prison. (He can ask to serve that time at home and also plans to appeal.) (AP)

  • United Airlines says it’s buying 25 more 737 Max aircraft, and speeding delivery of 45 others it already ordered. These were the troubled planes that were out of service for more than a year before the pandemic, but United says it has faith in them and wants to gear up for a projected surge in travel after Covid. (CNN)

  • Texas is suing power company Griddy Energy LLC, “saying it misled customers and saddled them with sky-high energy costs during last month’s winter storm.” The suit seeks customer refunds for customers and “to make sure Griddy provides accurate energy service in the future.” (Bloomberg)

  • I published the March edition of my 365 quotes for 2021. This time they’re 31 quotes about luck. I think my favorites were from Indra Nooyi, Elon Musk, Eric Bana and MacKenzie Scott. (Me, on Inc.)

  • U.S. shopping malls are now worth about 60 percent less than what they were before the pandemic, according to a Bloomberg study of real property reappraisals. (Chain Store Age)

  • A massive iceberg 20 times the size of Manhattan broke off of an ice shelf in Antarctica this week, the result of a large crack that had been building over the last 10 years. This seems like an amazing event, but it’s expected and normal, according to scientists — just kind of cool to watch. (People)

  • A New Jersey school awarded a much-delayed varsity letter to a 79-year-old San Fransisco man who was denied the honor back in 1959 after he earned it in track and field back in 1959—apparently because he was gay. (NYT)


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