Kueppers: Fall 2020 or Zoom 2: The Zoom-pire strikes back!

Growing tired of using Zoom? You’re not alone.

by Henry Kueppers

Using Zoom is similar to watching a really bad movie in two ways: first, just like a bad film, the first ten minutes is ironic and fun, as you are able to laugh and make silly little jokes about the idiocracy of the whole situation. However, like a bad movie, the joke gets old, and you quickly want out. Second, I am pretty sure all bad films and Zoom programming are executively produced by dreamboat Hugh Grant (unable to find the contact information for Mr. Grant on the internet, this columnist was led to believe that he clearly must be hiding something if he wishes to not publicly post his email address.)

Hugh Grant aside, students are exhausted by daily Zoom meetings, more so than in the good old days of in-person classes. The term for this ever-growing anxiety, frustration and weariness surrounding video conferencing apps is known as Zoom fatigue. Zoom fatigue is concerning for two main reasons: first, it simply is not evaluated and discussed enough inside a learning institution as large as the University of Minnesota. Secondly, I am disheartened by the fact that this is the name we came up with. No workshopping, no polls, nothing. It really makes me concerned for the creativity levels of our nation’s top scientific minds. However, for brevity, I will only analyze my first point.

Multiple factors contribute to Zoom fatigue. Several researchers agree that Zoom users exert more emotional effort on their brains utilizing the app because as humans we depend on nonverbal communication mechanisms. Nonverbal communication techniques include body language, subtle shifts and moments of silence in between discussions. Think of it like this: in person, we can see our boss Douglas giving a presentation. We see that he is fidgeting, meaning a lack of confidence, leading us to believe that he does not know what he is doing. Maybe if we are lucky, he will pull out the finger guns, meaning we have to laugh politely at whatever dumb joke he has just told. This is how our brain processes all interactions, and these rules we are so fond of and attuned to have been tossed out in exchange for tiny, digital windows that force our brains to scramble and try to process what happened to all those nonverbal cues. Now, if our boss Douglas tells a joke over Zoom, we won’t know when to laugh, because we can’t see his finger guns.

Zoom forces us to focus solely on the conversation at hand, but this is a daunting and exhausting exercise for our minds because the brain has a limited working memory capacity. As we consciously exert focus on one specific task, such as listening to one speaker on a Zoom call, we fill up our cognitive load, which in turn makes inferring our peers emotions and words on the screen a tiring and fruitless endeavor.

Of course, who could forget that this is all most likely taking place from the comfort, or discomfort, of your own home, which has just become your office. There are no boundaries, no distinctions. And as our brains are naturally associative machines, there will become a dissonance when your bedroom is also your cubicle. And now you can kiss your signed poster of Ted Danson from 1982 goodbye, because everyone can see you and your background. Speaking of which, my hair! I need to fix it, and what? Is that really what my nose looks like? Distracting thoughts like this can race through anyone’s mind when they see their face on a Zoom call. Maybe I’ll go into another room for this class, and what’s this? My roommate has decided that today was the day to take up naked yoga in the family room. What good luck!

Zoom has become an unwanted stage for introverts and even daring extroverts, because you are forced to “be on” and “perform” to prove that you are understanding and reciprocating all the information being taught. It is understandably infuriating for college students across the country who have to use it for hours every day, and the implications for us are unbelievable. We jeopardize our own mental wellbeing on a daily basis and question whether or not we are truly gaining any actual knowledge or semblance of an education, while also combatting our own insecurities, anxieties and uneasiness. This issue is further complicated by the University, which sends condescending emails blanketed as “reassuring” to us on a daily basis and offers digital therapy sessions to help with our stress. The irony just hurts at this point, it’s almost insulting.

I can only condemn the University’s actions to a degree, because running a massive higher education institution probably has untold trials and tribulations. However, because I’m petty, I can condemn them a tiny bit. The students need an organization that can be honest and genuine with them. We are in a pivotal time and the University has dropped the ball on several issues that have come their way this year, especially regarding race relations. The least they can do is be as empathetic and engaged as possible when it comes to the pandemic, rather than coming off as your weird uncle, who never remembers your birthday but is always quick to ask you to loan him $15,000. The strategy should not be “keep going, push through!” but “do what you can and please take care of yourself first.” I am convinced that by the end of September, we will all receive a ‘90s style PSA video with Goldy the Gopher doing a backflip off a scooter, slapping a cigarette out of a kids hands and giving a big thumbs up to the camera, while text pops up that reads, “Zoom is cool!”

In the end, there is one final, crucial way that Zoom is like a bad movie: Zoom gives a lot of money to those who hold power and they, in turn, create a lot of sequels for even more money. Unfortunately, with no tangible end in sight regarding the coronavirus, it seems we might see several more versions of this bad film.