being Zoomed out

Published on April 24, 2020

This week I was Zoomed out.

Early on in the week, I had a somewhat monotonous Zoom call where I was a participant. I don’t typically like big group calls because I always feel bad intervening when someone else may have something to say that could help inform my thoughts, but I attended the call anyway and I had a good time.

After that call, though, I felt burned out from Zoom calls. I needed a rest. I was Zoomed out.

During quarantine, we are all spending more time at home, and one mistake I have made is to think that means people are more available to chat. After all, if you are at home all day -- when you would otherwise have been in the office -- then it sounds like you should be more available to take on a call, even if it is just for 15 minutes.

This was the wrong perspective to adopt. We may technically be able to take on extra calls in our day -- because we don’t have to book a conference room at the office, travel back-and-forth to work, and so on -- but that doesn’t mean that we actually have the capacity to do so.

I was working remotely before all this happened, and so the extent to which I have had “more time” has been limited. Even so, I still find that I am taking on fewer calls than I did before. The reason? I have been Zoomed out.

There are only so many video calls we can take in a day. For instance, last year there were times where I would be happy to sit on a one-and-a-half-hour call, assuming the conversation was interesting and productive. Now, though, I rarely spend more than an hour and fifteen minutes engaged in calls per day.

In fact, this week I have only taken work calls; everything else, I rescheduled.

I think there are a couple of reasons that I have been Zoomed out. The first is simply that I have had a lot of work to do, and I have wanted to spend my evenings away from technology -- away from the desk at which I sit for most of the best hours of the day.

Second, I have been Zoomed out because I have wanted to spend more time with family. Even if that time means sitting in a room with them while they watch television, I still consider it to be family time. It is time spent in the same room with another human being, in-person. If I take on more Zoom calls, I am not able to have as many moments with family.

But third, and this is important, I am still trying to process what is going on, and we all are. I have had more people rescheduling on me than usual lately, and there have been people with whom I have been unable to find a good time to chat. I think the reason behind this is because we are all taking this one day at a time, and some days are better than others.

In the past, I used to be comfortable committing to a call one week in advance, but now that is no longer the case. I used to be great at attending every call, but now I often reschedule. The reason is because, although videoconferencing keeps us connected, after a certain point its benefits are marginal, at best.

We all need time away from our computers. For those of us lucky enough to be quarantined with our families or loved ones, we need time to spend with them. And, on top of that, we also need to work, and fulfill our basic obligations -- cleaning, doing chores, et cetera.

In the coming weeks, I think we’ll see more people talking about how they are Zoomed out -- bored of video conferencing, and seeking a break from all the calls to which they have committed. Because, after all, spending time with people on Zoom is no substitute for being with them in person; it is a temporary solution while we all navigate this crisis.

If you feel like you need a break from Zoom (or Google Hangouts, or Skype, or whatever other chat platforms you use), then take it. Go out for a walk (assuming you follow government guidelines). Go read a book. Spend time with family.

As a reminder to myself, I should not feel guilty for not being up for a call. We’re all going at our own paces, and we cannot be expected to operate at 100% capacity right now. And, importantly, I can always reschedule a call for another time that works better.

In short, I think we’ll see a whole new type of etiquette emerge around taking breaks from Zoom. I expect some of this will arise in the form of white lies -- i.e. “I have another call” -- but some of it may also come in the form of clear truths like “I’m just not up for another Happy Hour on Zoom.”

Zoom was never meant to be such a big part of our lives. If you need one, take a break, and embrace the physical world in which we live (or just do something else on your digital device that brings you pleasure, because that’s what we all need right now, some pleasure).

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