While I was lying back in the dentist’s chair today, I was thinking about the word “fatigue.”
I don’t know who coined the term “Zoom fatigue,” but it’s been on my mind.
There isn’t a lot you can do, besides thinking, while recumbent in a dentist’s chair — though I am impressed with how, in modern dentistry, they really try to make you comfortable and give you distractions while they work. I was offered headphones and my choice of Pandora playlists. I could even watch Netflix. I thought, “What the hell, I’ll put on an ‘easy listening’ playlist to calm my nerves,” maybe drown out some of the unpleasant sounds that I was expecting.
It’s a great idea, but seriously, is there enough volume in the world to buffer the high-pitched wail of a drill grinding into your teeth? I’ll say it works to a certain degree, but it does nothing to stop the more general unpleasantness of the situation — the spray that’s shooting out of your mouth, the sensation of almost-having-to-gag-but-not-quite, feeling like you need to swallow but can’t really make it happen, or the absolute worst: the odd dry burning smell as the drill screams and grinds your enamel into dust. You can see the dust drifting out of your mouth in a loose cloud.
No “easy listening” playlist of 1970s Elton John, Gordon Lightfoot, and Hall and Oats is going to calm down anyone with that sight, or the terrible screeching that comes with that most awful smell. For just shy of two hours.
So, let’s talk about fatigue.
After a few hours in the dentist’s chair, I feel totally spent, shattered actually, almost catatonic. As much as I told myself to relax and breathe, I was totally on edge the whole time. I would catch myself clenching my fists or grabbing my wrist and squeezing tight. The whole two hours. It was exhausting.
How does that compare to the fatigue of Zoom meetings? Well, I’d suggest there’s no such thing as Zoom fatigue. It’s really just boredom. And it has nothing to do with the technology of video conferencing; it’s just plain bad meetings and bad virtual events.
Too many people are sitting through too many meetings that are dull. Even when a topic is of interest, the attendees have no chance to actively participate and engage. The experience leaves people with feelings of frustration, disappointment, even emptiness.
That leads me to one of the big gripes I have about virtual events as we’ve experienced them in the past year. You go into an online event, and the content being presented may be outstanding … and yet, you feel totally alone in the environment. There is no real opportunity for true human interaction.
I don’t know how many times at in-person events I’ve been sitting in a presentation and then realized, for example, that hey, Michel Proulx is sitting right behind me, and look, it’s MC Patel just across the aisle, and oh, there’s Paulien Ruijssenaars coming in late. I think, “I need to talk to those people as soon as the session is over!” And I do, and they introduce me to new people and vice versa. In live events, I can do that. In virtual events, not so much — mostly not at all. In most virtual events, it’s impossible to tell who else is in the room, let alone have an opportunity to meet with them after the event or between sessions. It’s not Zoom fatigue; it’s boredom and loneliness.
Even when I’m in the dentist’s chair, the dentist and the technician pause once in a while to ask me how I’m doing. True, with a bite guard in your mouth stretching your jaw well beyond where it was naturally meant to go, you can’t really reply with anything more than basic grunts. But still, it’s more attention than I get at most virtual events.
We can do better. (Go ahead, ask me how.)