Cynthia L. Eppley, MA
Right after “Social Distancing”, “Zoom Meetings” may be the new words for 2020. School’s out. Work is out. Church is out. But wait….We can always zoom a meeting! (Or whatever platform you prefer.)
While we have to “Shelter in place,” it seems like Zoom has come to our rescue. A way to connect with others! A way to engage with friends and family. But after nearly 3 months of this, the verdict is in. And it is not favorable.
Dress for Success
When you are in a zoom meeting, you are only visible from mid chest up. Generally. There are, of course, people who will try stretch the limits of acceptability and modesty in this. For instance, one on line video had 4 coworkers in a meeting. But one young man forgot that his camera was on….and proceeded to get up, clad in a shirt and his underwear. From there he proceeded to the refrigerator, scratching his back side the whole way. The others were screaming to him, “Your camera is on! Turn it off!” But to no avail. He had silenced the computer.
Teachers know the struggle. Note this:
“These times are Definitely strange. After a few weeks, my students are trying to outdo one another in strangeness on-line. I’ve seen odd PJ’s—like Halloween costumes—I’ve met younger siblings, pets, and discovered odd breakfast habits. Unfortunately, I’ve also realized that many of them expect a pass because of the pandemic. So, the cream rises to the top as usual, but there is an even smaller set of students within the ‘B’ range. Nevertheless, I am trying to enjoy it.”
It seems that Zoom meetings are a connection to others, but it is also exhausting. I enjoy seeing my friends and family. But it feels different. Why?
I recently made a video concerning the Pandemic, at the request of my good friend, Doug Dwyer, Addisville Church. He had suggested we discuss the many issues around it. However, in watching it again, I am very aware of where I am looking…or not looking! While I am looking at him during the interview, it seems like my gaze is about 3-4 inches lower.
Eye contact is crucial to human connection. Perhaps Zoom meets the minimum requirement for connection, but fails in the area of eye contact. I end up not quite knowing where I am looking. If I look to the speaker, I feel more genuine in a conversation. But the reality is that I am not really looking into their eyes at all. It is as if there is an invisible bulls eye just South of where I am looking. It is off-putting and uncomfortable. Where do I look? How do I connect?
Who is on First?
Depending on the size of the meeting, you may be looking at everyone at the same time. Consider this: in a “live” meeting, you may turn to the speaker and watch them, engaging in eye contact. It seems to be a meeting with that one person. And there is also the quick look away, rather than a sustained interrogation. But in a zoom meeting? Now you have innumerable sets of eyes looking in. At you. Where do you look?
Most conversations are marked by body language and stimuli. But not so with Zoom. We are so busy trying to take it all in, that we don’t get the full message at all.
Looking at all those eyes and faces brings on a great deal of fatigue. The program is cued by the next person talking. Consider this: in a meeting, there may be 15 people talking over each other. The loudest and brashest speaker gets the floor. Now take Zoom: again, the loudest speaker gets on camera. But there is no nuance in hearing other voices or opinions. It is drowned out by the ONE person who gets the floor. This is a mental strain that does not take place in live meetings.
Live meetings give us time and space to sit back and relax and listen. To wait for the next speaker. And to take in body language, facial expressions and reactions. But in Zoom, there is a constant stare into the other’s faces. There is not the usual give and take of conversation that makes people interactions so…. so human.
Some families have taken to “Family Zoom Meetings.” These are Pandemic developments, for the entire family never met before online. It seems strange and awkward, perhaps a bit forced.
Several of my friends are teachers. Because school is out, they are sending out assignments through the internet. And they connect with their students through Zoom or other platforms. But in the school setting, their teaching happened before a classroom of say, 28 students. This is not a possibility in COVID times. They may be able to meet in small groups of 3-4 students. This results in teachers working double the hours. They long to see their students in real time. The students are tired of it all. Everyone wants to go back to reality.
Another friend spends most of the morning in meetings. By the time she is finished, she is exhausted and her eyes hurt. And she wonders if she has accomplished her goal.
Justin, a health care professional had this to say: “I hate Zoom. I’d so much rather meet in person. Reactions are critical in interactions; Zoom has a delay. And there is the issue of people “talking over” one another. And the “Zoom freeze.” I’m so ready for it to be done.”
When the time comes to say goodbye, we all fumble to get to the red button, of “Off.” Now, where was that button? We are all gaily wishing the others well, while we awkwardly fumble to close off the conversation. It brings it full circle: We have connected, but the reality hurts. This is not real interaction that sustains and enriches us. It may be good for the moment. But it does not fulfill us as we long for human influence.
And perhaps this is the good news. That although Zoom has brought us to the minimum requirements of our work or meetings with others, it has also revealed the deeper need that we all know.
Perhaps, at the end of the day, we seek the spark of the Infinite God. God is mindful of mankind, and He cares for us. We are made a little lower than the angels. We are crowned with glory and honor. (Ps 8)
Because we are made in the image of God, we see this within the other.
Technology and Zoom may be a method to connect, but they are second best.