'Zoom Fatigue', And Why Group Video Calls Can Quickly Drain Your Energy

In the world where things are connected to the internet, communication has never been easier.

Even during harsh times, or crisis like a pandemic that forces governments around the world to apply strict social distancing among their citizens, communications are still possible because of the internet. People don't need dedicated hardware connected to cables or wires.

All they need is an internet-connected device.

With that, the world's information is practically in their hands.

Out of the many ways people can communicate through the internet, one of which is is using online video calls.

This way, our physical bodies are merely the grids for our digital faces. For many people, apps that offer video-conference ability, can be a lifesaver, especially during harsh times, or crisis like a pandemic.

Video chat is helping many people connect, socialize, remained employed, and stay sane.

Video calls

Through internet-connected device and video chat app, we can see others, conduct businesses and meetings. We can also laugh with our colleagues, we can sing sang “Happy Birthday” to friends from thousands of miles and watch them blow out their candles.

We can see our love ones, sing lullabies, and remain in touch with those people we know that are half way across the globe.

Using a long list of apps for online video calling, like Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, Houseparty, Duo, Messenger, and many many more, we live in a world more connected than ever.

Technology has become our friend, and we couldn't be more happier. That unfortunately, until things turn sour.

"There was definitely this time at the start where you saw this massive push toward ‘Let’s make sure that we stay connected,’” said Andrew Schwehm, a clinical psychologist in New York City. “Then after about two or three weeks of that, I started hearing from people, ‘It’s getting really tiring.’”

When the world forces people to remain indoors and practice physical distancing, video-conferencing quickly turned a hype into a tiring duty.

And here, the internet has a phrase for that.

When people we want to communicate with, appear on our screen, yes, we can see them. Through the speakers on our devices, yes, we can hear them. Using our web cam or front-facing camera on mobile devices, yes, they can see us. And with a microphone, they too can hear us.

But here's the thing, the experience of communicating with others through these hardware through our internet-connected devices, drain our energy very quickly.

"It's almost like you're emoting more because you're just a little box on a screen,” said Jodi Eichler-Levine, a teacher who uses Zoom to teach classes full of people during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I’m just so tired.”

Zoom's brand name took off when the coronavirus became a pandemic and forced many people around the world to remain indoors. Garnering a lot of users in such a brief of time, the trend of people using the Zoom video-conferencing app earned it its own slang term: "Zoom fatigue".

While it is called with the term "Zoom", this exhaustion also applies when people use Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, or any other video-calling interface.

Zoom fatigue
So much to see, in a so little space and so little cues.

The feeling of quick exhaustion comes from the basic way we humans communicate.

Humans communicate even when they’re quiet. For example, we can understand others' emotions or feelings, more or less, by simply observing their body language, eye contacts and more. What happens here is that our brain focuses partly on the words being spoken by the person we're communicating with, and derives the rest from the dozens of non-verbal cues.

It's these nonverbal communication (NVC) cues that help us paint a holistic picture of what is being conveyed and what’s to expect.

As social creatures, humans have developed this ability since we're young, and for many of us, it takes very little effort and little conscious to lay the groundwork for emotional intimacy.

But when we are communicating with others through a video call, the device we use restricts us from using our sense to the fullest.

In a typical video call, our eyes are only limited to see what's on our screen. Our ears can only hear the sound the speakers can produce. It's these restrictions that impair your abilities.

And if the person we're talking to is only showing his/her shoulders up, our ability to view the hand gestures or other body language is eliminated. And if the video is low in quality, we're simply stripped out from our ingrained abilities.

To compensate the missing NVC cues, our brain needs to work extra hard to pay attention to the spoken words instead.

Smile, pixelated
Without nonverbal communication cues, out brain takes more focus on spoken words.

In digital communication, NVC can be usually described as a the non-linguistic transmission of information through visual and auditory channels (deprived from tactile and kinesthetic).

NVC passes messages through eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture, and the distance between the two communicating individuals.

Ray Birdwhistell, an anthropologist that founded kinesics as a field of inquiry and research, concluded that nonverbal communication accounts for 60–70% of human communication.

For somebody who are really dependent on NVC can experience the worse 'Zoom fatigue' power drain when video calling.

And when communication is done in groups, like in group calls, where the screen is split for each participant, the experience goes from worse to worst.

When conducting communication with more than one person, we're simply dividing our attention to that many people. This is called multi-tasking. It requires our devotion to focus, and it is not something that everyone is good at.

On the whole, video chatting allowed us to communicate in ways that would have been impossible. These tools allow us to maintain long-distance relationships, and connect employees remotely.

And during pandemic, these tools relieve us from the mental stress. Putting privacy and security issues aside, these tools simply foster the sense of togetherness, as if we're all together on the same boat during a thunderstorm.

To some people, Zoom fatigue is something that needs to be dealt with. Nothing serious.

It's just the way our brain works when we're doing something that we're not used to do. With too many information to process in a single time, the brain can deplete its energy very quickly, leaving us tired and pretty much exhausted.

Zoom fatigue simply proves that even the most modern technology we rely on in our lives can take a physical toll on us.