Health

Tired of video calls? You’re not alone

Back view of a young man watching a big TV panel

Back view of a young man watching a big TV panel  

Why video calls that were supposed to keep us employed and connected with friends and family are leaving us drained

‘Zoom fatigue is real.’ Type in Zoom on Google, and this is what it is likely to auto-complete.

Sadiq Ahmed* realised this after spending eight hours in work video meetings in a single day. He works in the mental health space as a counsellor in London, and his company had been restrategising its work to suit physical distancing norms. Even today, he attends video meetings for nearly six hours every week.

When the world first started physical distancing, we jumped quickly on to the many video platforms as if they were life rafts, promising employability and friendships. Zoom in the mornings with workout buddies, meeting co-workers via Teams in the day, friends on HouseParty in the evenings and WhatsApp video calls with family at night. Lest we lose a semblance to the ‘normal’ routine.

Soon, we found out that video calls were not a replacement for real-life meetings. “Lethargy is the best way to put it,” he says, when asked how he was dealing with constant screen time.

While on the one hand, he wants to “communicate more fluidly, naturally, than possible through messages” — which he had hoped video calls would do — on the other hand, he feels “fatigue from constant calls, with their inevitable technical issues”. He misses real life group meetings which would lead to natural one-to-one conversations.

Split screens and lags

“Can you please call before 19.30, I have a group video call then,” Pournima Nair texts in response to our request to talk. Student of Politecnico di Milano, where she studies Sustainable Architecture, Pournima is currently in Thiruvananthapuram.

Their designing work, she explains, would normally involve the group to sit around a common sheet and scribble on it, brainstorming ideas. “It is difficult to translate this to video calls. Even if we take control of each other’s screens, it doesn’t happen in real time, and that lag of five seconds between voice and video can get very tiring.” Add to this, she is working on Italy hours, and the midnight submission deadline becomes 3.30 am, here.

Online classes split an already small screen into one half where she is watching her professor, and the other where she is working.

The main issue, explains Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, is the increased cognitive focus that video calls demand. Founder of the Services for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic in Bengaluru, he has long been advocating against the addictive nature of screens. He agrees that this issue has come to a head in the past three months.

“The physical outcomes of excessive use, such as mental fatigue, tired eyes, lack of sleep, are beginning to show. Video calling requires your constant attention, and though there haven’t been empirical studies yet, cases tell us that your blinking rate also reduces, which creates more fatigue.”

Picture it: you have multiple boxes on one screen and you are dividing your attention among all of them, noticing their facial expressions, the tone of their voice, their backgrounds. Your shoulders naturally hunch forward, and you lean in to the screen. If you are multitasking, with other apps running in the background, you are over-stimulated. Every time there is silence, you are worried whether it is a natural lull or a glitch at your end.

Najib Khan*, on the other hand, cheekily admits to using a data limiter when it’s meeting time, such that he is able to hear everyone properly, but has an excuse to not engage visually. “That’s for four hours of meeting every day, which means I am saving myself eye strain for 20 hours in a week.”

Give it a rest
  • Remember to blink, move your head and relax your shoulders to avoid strain. Prop up your screen at eye level instead of holding it in your hand. If you do hold it, switch from one hand to another every five minutes.
  • Avoid multi-tasking on the phone while on a video call, switch off notifications for that period.
  • Keep aside 40 to 120 minutes per day for recreational activities that do not involve the screen. Boredom and loneliness go hand in hand, and both lead to distress.
  • It is okay to opt out of group video calls with family on days you feel overwhelmed. Switch to regular calls instead.

At the end of the day, after a series of meetings, where do you go to meet your friends and family? Right back to the screen?

Rupasree Rajendran, a course director at Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum, downright refuses to join a video call now, be it from family or friends. She has been holding online sessions since April 6. “As part of my job, I have to observe each of the classes conducted by my team. I am honestly so tired of seeing myself on screen that I prefer catching up with people over voice calls.”

For Pournima, it is all about the formality of the call. She doesn’t mind them as long as they don’t need her undivided attention. She and her team sometimes keep the video call running in the background. It takes her back to Milan when they would sit together and listen to music, while working on their own thing. “This is the only way to do that now.”

Names changed on request. With inputs from Liza George

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 9:08:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/zoom-fatigue-how-video-calls-can-be-tiring/article31687267.ece

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