We originally noticed video call exhaustion at the beginning of the month. It’s now been confirmed not just by observers of modern culture like us but by actual scientists who note the digitisation of interaction, the delays and blips, the inability to accurately read body language and mirror each other can leave us feeling disconnected, anxious and unfulfilled.
‘Whatever you do, don’t video call me,’ a friend texted me recently. ‘But ring me if you like.’
Another said, ‘I’ve had 3 Zooms this week including a Zoom dinner party. I’m exhausted.’
With lockdown across the globe, the video call has in one sense come into its own. Now we are connecting as individuals and in groups, for work and pleasure, family gatherings, happy hour and, yes, dinner. It’s been a lifeline, especially for those isolating on their own, those suffering from depression and anxiety and many others. I’m yearning to keep connection with the people important to me personally and with folks vital to the campaigns that BritMums runs.
But personally, whether it’s Zoom, Skype, Houseparty, Microsoft Teams or another platform, I feel I’ve reached peak video call.
We’ve loved video calls for a long time
Our fascination with the video call stretches back a long time — even longer than the wide collars and polyester of the ’70s! Fritz Lang featured a version of a video call in his 1927 futuristic silent film Metropolis. The technology ranges from sleek and groovy (Star Trek and The Jetsons) to gritty clunkiness (Blade Runner). Funny, nobody shows people clutching a small device in one hand, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the other — the typical configuration I’ve found in my research.
The real problem with video calls
Leaving aside the obvious problems with inadequate security and offensive behaviour like zoombombing, the secret behind this shiny not-so-new toy is that it can be exhausting. It’s performative, but often with bad light and sound. It necessitates eyeliner for casual catch-ups. It beams back to us our own image in moments when we most want to be taken out of ourselves and in the company of others.
In the weeks and months to come, undoubtedly our Skyping, Zooming, Facebook Live-ing and more will settle down and become just one of the ways we stay informed, connect and support one another. Until then, if you need anything, I’ll call you. Just fax me your landline.
A bit of fun: Check out this supercut of videophones in film, including Metropolis, Blade Runner, Star Trek and The Simpsons!
Support and resources for when you’re home