Lockdown has been a time to load up on apps. When the pandemic forced many into isolation in the spring, we started socializing on Zoom, Twitch and Netflix Party. Club nights, trivia nights and casual hangs on a Brady Bunch-style grid became the norm.
But so too did so-called Zoom fatigue. A plethora of articles quickly popped up advising people on how to navigate the “performative” nature of face-to-face video meetings while analyzing how our brains must work harder to interpret social cues on platforms prone to freezing and laggy connections.
With Lockdown Part 2 in full effect due to surging COVID-19 infections and many spending more time online for school or work, the “we’re all in this together” zeal has morphed into “leave me the fuck alone.”
This disdain for video chatting is backed up by data.
An Angus Reid Institute study published in mid-October found Canadians are less enthusiastic about using Zoom and other video chat apps than they were last year. Forty-seven per cent say face-to-face calling makes them feel more connected to friends and family, compared with 71 per cent last year. But another 47 per cent say Zoom is better than nothing.
These apps, the study concludes, are “reducing the quality of overall connection” in Canada. Even more dire, Angus Reid found the number of Canadians who say they have a good social life plummeted in the past year from just over half in 2019 to one-in-three in 2020.
The solution? Log off and pick up the phone.
“When two people are talking on the phone, they attend to each other differently than they do on a Zoom call,” explains Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “On Zoom, you’ve got your computer in front of you, there are tabs, you can click this and that and nobody will know. With a phone, we tend to concentrate more. We’re attentive.
“What really matters when two people connect psychologically is that feeling the other person is listening and they care about you,” he continues. “When we feel like we’re part of a network of people that care for each other, we feel more resilient and strong, ready to handle stuff.”
This is also true in the case of texting, emailing or direct messaging. A recent study published in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology found people undervalue the benefits and intimacy of voice-based connections.
Researchers asked participants to imagine having a conversation with an old friend they hadn’t spoken with in at least two years, and to predict how awkward or comfortable it might feel to connect via phone or email. They also asked which medium they prefer.
The participants were then randomly assigned to reconnect with the friend via phone or email. Those who reconnected over the phone said they had a stronger bond and deeper connection. And they didn’t feel any more uncomfortable than the people who emailed.
“Other people seem more mindful – more thoughtful, intelligent, rational and capable of emotional experience – when you literally hear what another person has to say compared with reading the same content in text,” the study states.
Pauses, intonation and variance in pitch can “reveal thinking and feeling as it is occurring in the mind of another person,” it continues. “Text-based media lacking these cues can make others seem relatively less competent and interpersonally warm.”
This latter point is important to bear in mind next time you’re having a hot debate about politics with a friend. Talking on the phone might help you make your point more convincingly – or see the other person’s side more clearly.
Interestingly, the study also found that adding video into the mix did not affect people’s sense of connection or awkwardness. This led the researchers to theorize “the human voice is uniquely equipped to create a sense of connection with another person.”
So instead of watching something with a group of friends online in real-time, Joordens advises tuning in separately and scheduling a call to talk about it later.
The post-mortem is likely to be more lively, satisfying and better for everyone’s well-being.
“You get all the little sighs and chuckles and grunts. That’s where all the emotion is,” Joordens says. “That’s what we need: emotional connection to people just listening to one another, quite honestly. Being there for each other is where the power is.”
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With files from Glenn Sumi