By Melisa Azak

 

In the past week, Zoom has received widespread backlash for paying $0 in federal income taxes despite making $670 million profits during the coronavirus pandemic.[1] An ubiquitous technology, Zoom has become a household name in the last year by providing video communications solutions to millions of users.[2] Zoom offers platforms for video and audio conferencing, as well as an reliable cloud platform to store content in real time.[3]

 

Well into social distancing and lockdowns, however, Zoom fatigue has become a real issue for students and employees alike who find themselves on the platform several hours each day.[4] There are several factors contributing to this Zoom fatigue.[5]

 

First, Zoom users take prolonged gazes at a close distance with colleagues, operating at close distances generally used for loved ones. This close gaze is not unlike being in an elevator, where people must stand in close quarters, “exceed[ing] the typical amount of intimacy people tend to display with others”. This can cause discomfort for many users, leading to fatigue.[6]

 

Second, users must constantly monitor their behavior in order to receive and send the correct nonverbal cues which would come naturally in in-person conversations.[7] People must “send cues to others that are intentionally generated” like “centering oneself in the camera’s field of view, nodding in an exaggerated way for a few extra seconds to signal agreement, or looking directly into the camera . . . .” Further, users receive fewer cues of encouragement than they do in in-person interactions, all contributing to a higher cognitive load on the platform.[8]

 

Third, using Zoom is similar to having someone hold up a mirror to your face “for every single task you did and every conversation you had” during the day.[9] Generally, people are more likely to critique themselves when presented with mirror images, which can be stressful to constantly view.[10] In addition, these views do not affect users equally. The mirror image effect has “a larger impact on women than men”, partly because “women are more likely than men to direct attention internally in response to seeing themselves via live video.”[11]

 

Reduced mobility is the last factor that contributes to Zoom fatigue. In regular face-to-face meetings, people “pace, stand up, and stretch, doodle on a notepad” and do any number of other small activities.[12] These movements, though seemingly inconsequential, often improve cognitive performance in meetings. On Zoom, users are limited to sitting or standing to show themselves in small squares on a screen, and do not enjoy any of the benefits of increased mental performance.[13]

 

Given these factors that contribute to Zoom fatigue, a number of solutions have been proposed to help those who use Zoom consistently.[14] One solution to avoid the mirror effect previously discussed is to use the hide-self-view feature.[15] To further reduce on-screen stimuli, many people also agree to use plain, virtual backgrounds on screen to reduce distractions or agree as a group to have only the speaker turn on their video.[16] Another possible solution is to not default to video communications for calls. Especially when communicating with external colleagues like clients and vendors, video call “is fairly intimate and can feel invasive in some situations”. Phone calls, which were the default for these interactions prior to Zoom, can be the less tiring choice.[17]

 

Although the world seems to be on the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom, and its counterparts like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex look like they will continue to be regularly used in the future. Understanding the harms of video conferencing technologies and possible solutions for those harms can ensure users can enjoy the benefits of increased connection in sustainable ways.

 

[1] Stephen Gandel, Zoom’s Pandemic Profits Exceeded $670 Million. Its Federal Tax Payment? Zilch, CBS News (Mar. 24, 2021 1:45 PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/zoom-no-federal-taxes-2020/.

[2] Meetings, Zoom, https://explore.zoom.us/meetings.

[3] Id.

[4] Jeremy N. Bailenson, Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue, Technology, Mind, and Behavior (Feb. 23, 2021), https://tmb.apaopen.org/pub/nonverbal-overload/release/1.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Liz Fosslien & Mollie West Duffy, How to Combat Zoom Fatigue, Harvard Business Review (Apr. 29, 2020), https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

Image Source: https://kortschakcenter.usc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Zoom-Fatigue.pdf

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