We Have Video Chat Fatigue

We are into the second month of staying at home for most Americans. Most of us are more than a little stir-crazy. It’s hard to be cooped up at home, especially as the weather is starting to become nice around the country. We are longing to get outside and connect with each other. Each day is taking a toll on morale across the country. Humans are social beings. We want to see and connect with folks.

Since the beginning, the Neuliven Health team has been saying video chats were the way to go. But, fatigue is setting in. Having a conversation on Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or any other video platform isn’t the same as meeting face to face. People around the country have been asking why video conferencing is exhausting, so we wanted to take a look at the reasons why and talk about some ways to enjoy communication without a screen.

Video chats are harder to participate in because they take more concentration. In a typical conversation, you get a ton of visual cues that are missing from video chat. You can’t see small facial expressions; you can’t read body language. Computer speakers tune out some tones of voice. So it’s harder to understand the meaning. All of that means that your mind is in overdrive to participate in the conversation and understand what is being said.

Additionally, things like audio or visual lag can make people feel uncomfortable in a way you don’t experience if someone is silent for a moment in a face-to-face conversation. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation,” said Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Instead and BBC Worklife spokesperson. “However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” If you are having a chat with a friend in your home, you may stop speaking as you turn to the fridge to get refreshments.

In a video call, you face the people at all times and remain alert. You lose the natural flow of conversation. When you usually are in a group conversation, you don’t look at everyone at once. Screens with many faces on them can actually trigger an adrenaline rush, like stage fright. You should think that it would be a bit like watching TV, especially as the tiled faces can feel a bit like the beginning of the Brady Bunch. But it isn’t, because you’re participating and people are watching you. A group call “is like you’re watching television and television is watching you,” said Prof. Petriglieri.

It’s also physically draining. In a real conversation, you might get up. You change position in your chair, you turn to look at different speakers. In a group call, you always sit in one place, facing the camera. This lack of movement can take a toll on your body. You also don’t blink as much while looking at a screen. One way to combat eye fatigue is to follow the 20-20-20 trick. Every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. It helps you feel less physical fatigue than just looking at your screen. And, no matter what you do, eye contact is almost impossible. If you look at your camera to be sure you’re looking at the person speaking, you can’t actually look at them. And, if you look at them, you aren’t making eye contact with the camera.

A video call may actually lead to you feeling lonelier. When you have a phone call, it feels normal. We have been doing it our whole lives. These virtual conversations are new to many of us. They remind us of how much has changed, how strange the times are. Having this alien type of communication can underscore how bizarre the new normal is. That can lead to people feeling more isolated than they did beforehand. “The video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily,” said Prof. Petriglieri. “It is the distress that every time you see someone online... that reminds you we should really be... together.”

That’s why many of us are turning back to phone calls. You can move, you can chat. If there is a moment of silence it feels relaxed. You’re also able to focus on just one friend, not your whole family gathered together. Another fun thing to do is to write a letter. You can show people you are thinking about them and would like to connect without a face. One thing we have been doing is theming our get-togethers. Dinner parties, coffee hours and viewing parties can feel more like a special event rather than a meeting where the physical contact is lost.

At some point, this will be over, and we can get back to our daily lives. Until then, try to stay connected to your loved ones in whatever way is least stressful to you!
April 24, 2020
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