With apologies to Zoom investors, I have a confession to make.
I hate Zoom.
Every square inch of the screen, every setting — if I had my way, I’d never use this app again.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it. In fact, the main reason Zoom is so popular is that it’s easy to use and, due to the low latency, the video chats look smooth and life-like. I love the virtual backgrounds. Recently, I chatted with a new business contact who looked like he was in an ultra-modern kitchen (it looked believable, at least on my miniature iPhone screen).
Lately, every Zoom call has reminded me of what we’re all missing. It’s called reality.
My reason for feeling this way requires a little explanation.
A few years ago, I stopped playing video games on a regular basis. Originally, back when the game Doom first debuted, I was hooked because of the visuals — I loved the idea of exploring a strange new alien world. I loved the art.
I still remember specific scenes from games like God of War and, from way back in the annals of time, Myst on the PC. Those of you who follow video games might remember a waterfall scene from Ico, a true classic. It’s quite stunning.
I’ve told this story before, but there was one pivotal moment for me when it all hit home. I was playing the game Forza with my son. We were pretty excited because we had finally unlocked a Chevy Corvette. Now, I happen to test cars as part of my job as well, and we started joking about this false sense of accomplishment. You see, I happened to also have a Corvette in the garage at the time. A real one. We set down the controllers and we never looked back. (Okay, he still plays video games and I’ve been known to de-stress after work with NBA 2K.)
My point is — I’ve experienced major Zoom fatigue, and I can’t quite envision the solution or how I’ll find a way to recover anytime soon. A collection of pixels is no substitute for a real person in the same way a virtual Corvette is nothing like driving the sleek and sporty speed demon in the real world. You can’t smell the exhaust. You can’t truly sense the speed.
Curiously, it’s getting worse, not better. It’s not like I dread Zoom calls. I know it’s the only way to communicate during the coronavirus pandemic, especially since close contact in a small office is not exactly a good idea. I regularly participate with as much eagerness as possible. I know the alternatives like Slack and email are even worse in terms of personal connections. But here’s where I start worrying.
A few years ago, brain scientists started openly questioning what happens to all of us when we use our phones all day long. They know there’s a dopamine hit when we receive an email, see a “like” on social media, or click a check on a task. It’s not reality. The sense of success you feel when you rack up some likes on Facebook is not actual success. Our brains don’t seem to know the difference, though. It’s a societal change, and there might be long-term effects. Our screen time is getting scary.
With Zoom, it’s been about four months and counting now. There’s no way to read body language. People smile into a camera and only reveal parts of their life. Social media has always been detrimental to our mental health because we post only our best moments. Flipping through the feed of a random stranger would make you believe it’s always sunny, they are always smiling, and they never have any problems. On social media, all our problems are expunged. They do not exist.
In Zoom, we portray the best moments of our lives. In a 30 minute chat, we’re presenting the best possible version of ourselves — then we turn off the chat and go back to reality. Technology hasn’t been able to figure out real emotions and deal with real digital fatigue.
I’m not sure we’ll ever figure it out. Bits and bytes, pixels and fonts. They will never come close to what it’s like to sit next to an actual person in a meeting. I’d rather drive a real Corvette.
I may decide when this is finally over that I never want to use Zoom again. I might go back to Skype or use a Google product, but at least I’ll be making a statement:
I prefer reality.