If you’re at all like me, you’ve had enough Zoom in the past year to last a decade. Yes, it’s better than nothing. Yes, we’re lucky to have it. And yes, it’s annoying as hell. Aside from the fact that I never aspired to be on Hollywood Squares, I find Zoom “get-togethers” stressful. Turns out there are reasons for that, based in neuropsychology, linguistics and the way the internet was designed.
For security, audio and video transmitted online get broken into packets and reassembled at the other end. However, they don’t always arrive together. As explained in The Economist, it can take more than 150 milliseconds. While that doesn’t sound like much, it exceeds the pauses found in normal speech. Breaking this implicit “no gap, no overlap” conversational rule leads to awkward interruptions. It’s anxiety-inducing to try to piece together what someone is saying and guess when it’s your turn to talk. Research shows a gap of just over a second makes people seem less friendly and less attentive. It also creates the perception that they’re hesitating in their responses, which creates distrust.
On top of all that, Stanford University research explains that constant eye contact is unusual and stressful. Unless you’re being kissed or punched, you are rarely looking at someone that closely, or being stared at for so long. And many nonverbal cues are missing when we’re online. People compensate by speaking louder and nodding more energetically, both of which can be exhausting. Fortunately, between vaccines and better weather, we’ll soon be able to eliminate some Zooming.
Personally, I prefer an old-fashioned phone call, or even email, to Zoom, so it was a relief to learn there are scientific reasons. And lest you fear this post has nothing to do with my art – almost nothing, truth be told – here’s a gift for you, a reprieve from Zoom. Pretend it’s a Parisian night and you’re looking, from a nice soothing distance, at the lights on the Pont Neuf over the Seine. Relax, travel to Paris, and just enjoy!