Frozen computer screens, awkward silences, and repeated “Can you hear me?” remarks have become the norm. Zoom, Google Meets, and FaceTime have become influential for employees, friends, and family to connect during the pandemic. But do they bring us closer or further highlight the distance? And why are video calls more tiring than face-to-face meetings and usual coffee hangouts with friends?
Psychologists link video call fatigue and loneliness amidst digital togetherness to three things that don’t translate well over our computer screens: non-verbal cues, silence, and touch.
Lack of non-verbal cues
We mainly convey our emotions through non-verbal signals, such as hand gestures, tone and pitch of the voice, and facial expressions. We can’t process these cues automatically when we’re on video chat. So our brains work harder to pay attention to these signals and make sense of them. When you video chat with a colleague or friend, your mind subconsciously works trying to answer questions like, “Is he fidgeting? Can I trust him to outsource SEO services to another team?” and “Did her voice crack when she mentioned her ex?”
Taking in tons of verbal information while actively making sense of nonverbal cues is pretty tiring.
No tolerable silence
Silence in face-to-face conversation creates a natural rhythm; you may use that pause as a cue to respond or steer the conversation in a different direction. But in a video call, silence doesn’t work that way. It makes you anxious about the technology, hence the repeated “Can you hear me?” remarks.
Even when video-chatting with close friends, silences can be awkward. Usually, you can hang out with a friend all day long without the pressure to fill in the silence. Silences are tolerable when you’re with your favorite people. But unfortunately, comfortable silence doesn’t translate well over our pixelated screens.
Absence of touch
Of course, the biggest thing we miss out in the video calls is touch. Cameras and microphones can only emulate face-to-face conversations, not physical contact.
Unlike other species, humans adapted to survive in groups. Our need for social support is primordial, and touch is a big part of that. You can ward off loneliness and feel at ease because our brain needs to know that someone else is there to help if we need it. A hug, holding hands, tap on the shoulder, or any form of physical contact is the simplest yet most powerful way to communicate that support to others.
The absence of touch makes it harder for us to feel comfortable and secure, making our video chats with our colleagues, clients, and even closest friends tiring and lonely.
Additionally, if we are physically on camera, we become aware that we’re being watched. A simple catch-up with your team or parents becomes performative. We feel overly conscious of how we behave and get our message across. That pressure to perform alone can take a toll on our mental and physical health. Mix that with the absence of touch, nonverbal cues, and comfortable silence, and you will finally understand why video calls are draining.