By Péter Bajomi-Lázár, Budapest Business School.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, many of us have experienced the booming of video conference calls on Zoom, Skype, and a number of other digital platforms. Unlike during the Spanish flu a hundred years ago, technology has this time helped many to keep their jobs. But ‘Zooming’ has a variety of negative effects as well – warn us now the experts of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab. The reasons why the excessive use of video platforms may cause the so-called ‘Zoom fatigue’ include too intense close eye contact (which causes social anxiety), seeing yourself permanently, as if in a mirror (which may turn you too critical of yourself), the limitation of our movements (being forced to stay put for endless hours), and exaggerated verbal and non-verbal communication (basically meaning that you cannot rely on your usual body language, and need to make up for it either verbally or using exaggerated mimes and gestures).
To these, one can add a few more. I was born in the late 1960s and have recently hit the age of 51. I am, like many others, an analogue native, one who has acquired digital skills in adulthood only—and, honestly, quite imperfectly. In fact, I find learning to use a new platform rather painful. But the pandemic has spectacularly speeded up the introduction of new technologies, applications, surfaces, and functions, and forces one to adapt to them on a permanent basis. This definitely is another reason for fatigue for many. Moreover, as an educator delivering lectures almost every day, I often teach online classes to students who like to turn their cameras off and whom I do not see for this reason. Just try, only once, how difficult it is to deliver a lecture without occasional eye contact with your audience. I am pretty sure you will not appreciate it.
Further, home office is just what it says it is: working from your home-turned-into-your-office. It blurs the line between your public and private spheres. A recent survey has found that “as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, employees are spending more time working than before. … Work-life balance is nearly non-existent.” Many find it increasingly tiring to be always available online, having no time for themselves, their family and friends. According to Ernest Gellner, our identities in post-industrial societies are largely defined by what we do for a living. But then our identities are also defined by what we do in our spare time, which now seems to be largely lost or at best reduced. In the latest stage of the Digital Age, defined by home office for many, we no longer work to earn a living, but we live to work.
The ultimate objective of technological innovation is none other than improving the efficiency of work; it is aimed at sparing time for us so that we can do other things—things that we enjoy doing more than working. To this end, the accelerated digital switch has been a sad failure for many.