Video fatigue

Yesterday I had three formal meetings over a video platform. Our church does not use the most popular format, Zoom, for a variety of different reasons. The main reason being that I received a recommendation from an IT professional who works for a large nonprofit in our town. I’ve felt fortunate because Zoom has security flaws that have resulted in uncomfortable situations for some users. But Go To Meeting, the platform we use, is less familiar to people and has a few different commands and so I find that most meetings involve an element of technical support for users. At the beginning of a meeting I am often talking on my telephone while trying to keep up with what is going on with the computer. Although meetings in the digital world seem to be a bit shorter and more focused than face to face meetings, I find them exhausting. My job involves a lot of meetings and it is not at all unusual for me to have days when I go from one to the next all day long. I’m sure that I get far more tired from video meetings than I do from face to face meetings.

Manyu Jiang wrote a piece for BBC.com that explores the phenomenon of video chat matings and suggests several reasons why video matings are so exhausting. According to Gianpiero Petrigliere, associate professor at Insead, being on a video call requires more focus than face-to-face chat. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy.

Silence is another challenge. Whenever a group of people fall silent in a face-to-face meeting, I assume that we are thinking and that the moments of quiet to process what is going on are blessings. But when everyone goes silent in a video chat, which happens regularly, I become anxious about the technology. Is the sound working properly? Have I accidentally muted everyone else? I can’t tell which small frame on the computer a person is staring at, so it feels like everyone is staring at me.

Another factor in the fatigue that comes from video conferences is that it is very difficult to make a distinction between work, family, friends and other connections. I make a lot of video conference calls from my office at work or from the fellowship hall. I like the background of books in my study or the map in the fellowship hall to show others where I am. However, there are times when it is necessary to participate in conferences from other locations. Last night our Church Board held its regular meeting. We participated from home, sitting at the same table with the same background as when we are video chatting with our daughter in Japan or our son and his family in Washington. The experience is very similar. It also has the flavor of having invited the Church Board into our personal space - a space that was reserved for family in our previous lifestyle. When we accepted this call and moved to this home, we had two teenage children and making a firm distinction between work space and home space was critical. We live ten miles from the church and that distance is intentional. The computer compresses space, something for which I am grateful. I don’t know how I could keep my sanity if I couldn’t regularly see my grandchildren and check in with our son and daughter. Seeing their faces helps reassure us that they well and happy.

You’d think that seeing people who are important to us in our work life would have a similar effect of making us worry less about them. I find that I don’t relax very much when my eyes are darting from frame to frame and I am worrying about how things are working for the folks on the other end.

Years ago when higher education was beginning the transition to computer-based distance education, I participated in projects at Eden Theological Seminary and the University of Wyoming where we tested educational platforms. We began with text only formats and found that some students over participated while others lurked, reading the comments, but not commenting themselves. As video became more prevalent and high speed internet allowed for more data to be transmitted, teaching in the format became a process of managing many different screens. There would be the screens for each student and additional screens for course materials and shared documents. In a University of Wyoming Study it was discovered that some people suffered from vertigo and became nauseated if there were too many screens. Changing back and for the between multiple screens seemed to work better than having too many small screens displayed all at once. Software was developed that allows the video conference to display only the person who is speaking. That helps, but when I am coordinating a meeting, I can’t use that display option because I have to keep track of all of the participants, not just focus on a single one.

Combine the stresses of the video format with all of the other worries of this season of pandemic and I find that I am exhausted at the end of each day. I keep thinking that I should have more energy. I keep planning tasks that I will do at home in the evenings when I don’t have meetings, but I find that I have little energy for those chores. The constant feeling that I am falling behind doesn’t help.

In the midst of all of this I have found one thing that is relaxing. Our grandchildren, who suddenly became home schoolers when their public schools closed, have been writing us letters and sending them through the mail. We, of course, are replying with letters of our own. Taking time to write letters, some of them by hand, is a wonderful treat in the midst of video overload.

Maybe the old correspondence courses were on to something important in education. Slowing down allows more time to think. And time to think is a valuable commodity in today’s world.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!