After his 51st video call this week, Eoin Higgins asks - is video-conferencing doing more damage than good?
Now that many of us live apart – firmly friend-zoned as it were – pals, buddies, even lovers and sometimes acquaintances are socialising exclusively via video conferencing software. While it can sometimes feel as exciting as giving someone a hug via the medium of a PowerPoint pie chart; Zoom, HouseParty, et al are now where social life happens, for better or worse.
We wonder if the other person(s) can see that our line of vision is rarely on them but frantically scanning what’s going on in the background – that's when we’re not frantically self-assessing ourselves
Sessions stutter and freeze, speed up and sometimes warp our voice into embarrassing robotic echoes across cyberspace – not that our own voice doesn’t sound embarrassing every time we hear it played back to us anyway – but the robotic echoing thing ... there’s really no need for that; we were already feeling weirded out by the whole thing.
When the technology works, however, we are all too often checking out each other, slyly. We wonder if the other person(s) can see that our line of vision is rarely on them but frantically scanning what’s going on in the background – that's when we’re not manically self-assessing ourselves, like we’d gone for drinks in a house of mirrors and we’re trying to find the least self-mutating angle in which to bask.
Pre-call, we might – casually, of course – contrive just the right tableaux of background clutter/order/exceedingly good taste, to give off just the right impression, and like our social media posts and expressions, this will no doubt, as we become more familiar with the medium, become contrivance writ #yuge.
everyone else on the call has been sucking in their breath at your misfortune, unable to look away and hoping it’s not them next
You might also be hoping that the stream doesn’t freeze just as you’ve pulled your most terrifying, split-second facial expression. Spoiler: it will. One eyelid drooped, mouth slightly agape, a freeze-framed wobbly hand in the foreground. And the glitch won’t just disappear, eternities can, and will, pass before the stream buffers back for you to acquire yet another just-about-acceptable facial form. In the meantime, everyone else on the call has been sucking in their breath at your misfortune, unable to look away ... hoping it’s not them next. Spoiler: it will be.
Flaws you've missed
And then there’s the hanging up ... Who says goodbye first? What button do I press to end the call? Isn’t it embarrassing pretending to not watch each other fumbling around the interface, post-goodbye, for the always elusive end-call button? When you do find it, it’s like you can finally breathe again. The black screen almost as soothing as the hugs you've been really missing.
You thank your lucky stars it’s all over, but soon realise that you’ve missed your friend’s/family’s/yoga teacher's glitchy faults and flaws, terribly. You rightly decide that as much as it can be a horror show, the streaming video conference call is a real lifeline in these self-isolated, unhugged times and that thankfully, as far apart as we may be, we’re still all in this together, freeze-framed warts and all.