One anniversary into the year of our COVID-19, another illness has crept in: Zoom-fatigue. But instead of complaining about it, I think we should embrace our virtual aversion. Or as Emperor Palpatine once said to Luke while our lord and Vader looked on, “Let the hate flow through you.” We are in the COVID meantime, a meanwhile to think about all of our relationships, rituals, and crutches we’ve accumulated. We’re all tired of Zoom, which gives us the advantages of seeing faces and hearing voices, but requires us to “give the other person the impression of eye contact by staring at a green light when you’re really not seeing anything at all.”
Remote classes, which are less dialogical, seem less effective than in-person lectures. And video meetings, video holiday gatherings, and long-distance video dating suck the life from us, while we keep hoping they’ll do the opposite. Zoom has enjoyed the benefit of becoming a household name, but on the flip side, many people now loathe it.
Let’s not resign ourselves to creating more and denser un-human Zoom communities. Instead, let’s remind ourselves daily that it will not always be like this because it shouldn’t be like this. Let’s feed our souls with our abhorrence of the COVID meantime. Let’s confront it with these apt pop lyrics: “Look what you made me do!” In other words, let’s think hard about what we want from our relationships with technologies in the years to come.
It’s not as if our tech use didn’t scratch an itch. Sherry Turkle reminds us that we not only feel less vulnerable when texting and engaging others through social media, but we’ve also become addicted to feeling less vulnerable. So now, we need to be brave. We must dig down into our hatred of video meet-ups. Or, we can peel off the callouses of cowardice that isolation has imbued into our bodies. If we cannot be brave, then let’s motivate ourselves with disgust. We must use our experience of a deeply and digitally connected COVID-world to reject it later, where appropriate. We must figure out which parts of our technological lives make sense, and which parts wind down the lurid path to Sheol.
We have to start by taking stock.
Sitting in virtual lectures? Fine. Talking to my parents through an ever-rolling group chat? Maybe not. Maybe they deserve a call. In a voice conversation, we might actually “catch up,” tell the stories, and surprise them with news rather than the yeah-yeah conversations rehashing what they already know from their constant family news feed.
We might take walks with phones turned off. Friends might talk and eat together without that craned-neck ghost-friend who is present but not there. Anything could happen if we get sick enough of this.
When my mom was around 12, she and her friend bought a pack of cigarettes (which you could do even when I was a child). She intended to sneak a smoke—to see what all the fuss was about. But my grandmother, a smoker, found the pack hidden in her room. So, she made my mother smoke the whole pack, one after the other. Just a little girl, she thought this was a great punishment at first. She didn’t even make it through the pack. She got dizzy and sick and threw up. She always said, “I think I turned green,” when recounting this story.
Instead of gradually relying more on technological mediation as if we’re acquiring a taste for cigarettes, I say, “smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.” The sooner we get to puking, the sooner we can relish more human ways of nurturing community. That may always include outings in Zoomland and quick texts to friends, but I have a feeling that we will be less naïve about it.
[This essay was originally commissioned and inspired by Liza-Claire Vandenboom.]