Michael Sacasas is a teacher, independent scholar, and writer whose work focuses on the ethical and social dimensions of technological change. His writings have appeared in such publications as The New Atlantis, Real Life, The American, The New Inquiry, and Second Nature Journal. Mr. Sacasas also contributes to a personal newsletter that he created in the convivial society which seeks to address issues of technology and society. Click here to view more of Michael's work.
A recent and noteworthy article written by Mr. Sacasa focuses on the theory of Zoom fatigue and how technologies can impact the human perception or experience. According to Mr. Sacasas it is not to state that Zoom or other forms of video conferencing should be viewed as bad and to be avoided but they should be utilized with a sense of awareness about communication. Mr. Sacasas indicates that “human communication is a miracle” that is wonderful but it can also present with its own set of challenges based on the elements that go into the process. Communication has to deal with not only words but also focuses on gestures, facial expressions, and the words that the human body is trying to convey to the mind, and the meaning in the work of communication.
Mr. Sacasas states that media is always influx and people have been used to using the phone for a long time. The use of the phone is unique when it comes to communication because it extracts the body and gives people just the voice. There is a field of study called history of technology that specifically seeks to answer the questions related to how people originally perceived the use of the telephone. This was met with a high degree of uncertainty and awkwardness according to Mr. Sacasas. This proves a look at how this technology was initiated, received, and what challenges it may have posed to people during that time period. Along the same lines, the use of video conferencing can present with its own set of offenses and aspects that can make it challenging. According to Mr. Sacasas, people tend to gravitate towards multitasking at times when they are on their computers. The process of multitasking can be very challenging especially while on a meeting because one can become tempted to look at emails or check social media and with each of these occurrences there is a drop in the conversational thread and attempting to pick this up over time can become taxing. Mr. Sacasas states that if one is in their own personal space then there is the inclination to change one’s posture, move around, or sit and stand. However, with video conferencing, one may be stuck on the screen and have to demonstrate one’s presence which can also come with some physical stress. Also, there is a unique dynamic that can be associated with video conferencing because one is observing themselves along with other participants but there is the option to hide oneself from view which can be helpful. One can become self-conscious with video conferencing and this can become exhausting with time so the recommendation of hiding one’s own image from oneself on the device might help some people. Mr. Sacasas states that it is the divided attention and fracture that can create a mental toll. For instance, by spending a lot of time on Zoom the mind can work on overdrive due to the subtle changes to how communication can occur and the roadblocks that can arise during the process.
Mr. Sacasas states that the phone differs from video conferencing in that while on the phone one is paying attention to a singular aspect of the conversation and the ears are doing the work, whereas with Zoom or other video conferencing platforms there can be a possible fracture in attention. For example, if there are five or more participants on a screen the attention can be divided which becomes more challenging but on the phone, there is a “low bandwidth stream of information” just to the ear.
With the use of video conferencing, there is an amount of formalism that can be associated with the particular setting and expectations so it may be less relaxed than video conferencing with family members.
According to Mr. Sacasas the body is an essential part of the communicative process and people are used to having face to face conversations and when the body is present more attention is being paid which an individual may not be consciously aware of.
In addition, there is also the issue of eye contact, a critical aspect of the communication process that can arise with the use of Zoom. Eye contact serves to make sure an individual is on track that they are paying attention, it provides feedback and modulates how an individual engages in communication. With the use of Zoom, there can a loss of eye contact so one may never truly achieve the ideal experience of eye contact, an important dimension of the presence of the body. Mr. Sacasas states that the eyes attempt to achieve a kind of optimal grip that it is used to achieving and when presented with a field of people the body does not give the mind the cues and maybe working on overdrive to achieve it. The body serves as a “mediator of meaning” because with communication one is attempting to understand the meaning of words through cues and also just below the surface of consciousness.
Furthermore, with video, even if it is working well there can be subtle lag which can create an awkward experience and also become draining as one attempts to become accustomed to it. With a number of participants on the screen, one is constantly trying to dart back and forth whereas if they are present before in the field of vision they can be taken in more coherently. Rather than appearing as individual units, they can be seen as one cohesive unit.
According to Mr. Sacasas if the expectation is for people to be on Zoom meeting constantly throughout the day the struggle should be reduced because after a while multiple hours of Zoom meetings each day can it become less optimal.
There is also a sense of responsibility that a person may experience with being on virtual meetings if the technology is not working correctly, particularly if one is hosting the meeting which can also take a toll on the individual.
Mr. Sacasas remarks that not everyone experiences the same kind of challenges with the use of virtual meetings because each medium can afford things that make it easier and also things that it discourages, and this can be dependent on tendencies and personality types. Along the lines of virtual meetings, writing can also be viewed a technology because all the work of the body is now being done by little marks on a page. There is an elaborate system of encoding meaning with these marks with the use of punctuations, line breaks, and page spacing.
According to Mr. Sacasas, the different ways of communicating have their own unique place and usefulness so it is important to assess what is the best fit for the given situation and the need. Mr. Sacasas states that not everything has to be translated into Zoom and the question is to evaluate what is the best fit for the discipline or subject matter to make the determination.