On April 22, BBC News ran a widely-shared piece digging into the psychological and ergonomic factors that make Zoom meetings so fatiguing. The experts offered many reasons, ranging from the dissonance of “togetherness in mind but not in body” to the irregular silences and delays in communication. They also noted the context collapse of working and living in the same place, and, y’know, that whole “living through an unprecedented global pandemic” thing. And they said one thing in particular that made me personally feel a little less alone: “It’s also very hard for people not to look at their own face if they can see it on screen.”
OK, I don’t know if anyone else is running into this problem, but it’s really hard for me to not look at my face on the Zoom screen, even in meetings where I’m looking at a 4×4 grid or more of other faces. This isn’t a weird flex. Seeing my face this often is not something I’m used to or comfortable with, and I’m starting to fixate on all the things I don’t like about it. Now, I rationally know that because I’m an adult human who spends her time with other adult humans, and not, say, on an elementary school playground, people either don’t notice or don’t much care about the things I find problematic about my face, or the appearance of anything about me or anyone else. Yet I fixate nonetheless.
Is this exhibiting a false consciousness? (Would this be a less ridiculous and more intellectual piece of writing if I examined it from that perspective? Probably.) As someone who considers herself to be a feminist with lots of axes to grind with the obsession of appearance in our culture, I’d like to think I’m beyond this shallow self-deprecation. Maybe I am, but maybe Zoom has pushed me back into it, or maybe I really haven’t overcome the pressuring societal definitions of attractiveness. However you slice it, imagine how it would be if every in-person meeting you had from now on was simultaneously being played back on a screen right in front of you, and you had the choice of turning it off but only if you made it so the person you were meeting with could no longer see your face. How on earth do people fire or break up with each other on Zoom? I’ve heard that both are happening.
Anyway, right now, I desperately want to do something that has nothing to do with my face. My answer to “What do you want to do when it’s ‘over’?” is: Eat some fries at Porter Cafe (okay, I guess that does have to do with my face) and then go get another tattoo. A big one, another half-sleeve, probably, on my right arm. I want to experience the deeply unpleasant but stupidly gratifying test of endurance that is receiving a large tattoo. I’ve wanted to do this for a while but haven’t mostly because it’ll hurt like hell as my other half-sleeve did (and, y’know, because I’m fiscally responsible and all of that 😉), but now I just want the sensation of something else. I want to do something that’s the anti-Zoom or the un-Zoom, something that could never be done via Zoom, something that would be absurd if streamed on Zoom because it would be so outside of what Zoom can possibly convey, either to the person watching the tattooing (boring!) or from the person being tattooed (ouch!).
I’m annoyed by how privileged and childish I sound, but who among us is over a month into quarantine and free of this temper-tantrum-inducing, stomach-churning anxiety? I think we all have earned a little childishness in the form of tattoos, fries, or whatever floats your boats. And who isn’t annoyed by themselves at this point? Tell us your secrets, please (but not on Zoom, please). I’ve been astounded at the similarities between now and my life in 2009, when I was much more annoying than I am now and I moved to Boston with a bunch of other recent college grads, all of us with no job prospects. We went for big Costco runs and did little else because we had no money, and the boys played Halo all day, which I bring up because the boys still appear to be playing Halo all day. I don’t care what my partner does with his time, and video games are a great way to help us not kill each other; it’s just wild to me that it’s 11 years later and men are still playing the same frigging game on the TV in my living room. The only difference is one of them is on the couch here, and the others are all on… you guessed it, Zoom.
2009 was a rough time to be a person, especially a newly independent one. But things got better. It wasn’t easy and it took a long time, but they did improve. One has to assume they will this time, too. At the very least, we’ll probably stop using Zoom this much at some point, right?