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Some people call Zoom the junk food of human interaction

It might be convenient, but it’s not easy to live on it forever.

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Every week, Arthur Brooks writes a column called “How to Build a Life” that addresses issues of purpose and contentment. To listen to his podcast series How to Build a Happy Life, which explores all things happy, click here.

The planet will truly be a paradise, and distance will lose its allure by being completely eliminated, predicted British novelist Arthur Mee in 1898, if the concept of sight is applied to the telephone as well as the principle of sound.

So how do you like heaven, fellow Zoomers? It turns out that in nirvana, your coworkers may or may not be wearing pants, and the standard greeting is “I think you’re on silent.”

During the COVID-19 shutdowns, Zoom and associated technologies were required. Videoconferencing may have prevented a considerably worse economic collapse at a period when more than 40% of American workers worked full-time from home. These technologies have provided some workers the ability to enhance their productivity even as offices have started to reopen and given entrepreneurs options if they wish to avoid the terrible situation of commercial aviation.

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Do we really need to meet in person?, asks Ed Zitron.

However, new innovations do not come without a price in terms of work or life quality. Videochatting might provide the advantages of in-person meetings without the inconveniences of travel and infections. But for some people, it might lead to depression or even burnout. Human interaction is like junk food when it comes to being quick and filling but not a replacement for a balanced diet.

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You have probably heard of “Zoom fatigue” by now, a term used to describe a variety of illnesses, such as headaches and exhaustion, that are linked to long sessions of virtual meetings. Data from a survey conducted in October 2020, when 71 percent of workers who could do their jobs from home were doing so, showed that among those who used videoconferencing frequently, more than a third felt exhausted by it. Unsurprisingly, Zoom fatigue increases as meeting frequency and length increase.

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Research on the consequences of virtual interaction is still in its infancy; prior to 2020, relatively few academics were interested in this topic. Zoom fatigue has six root causes, according to a review of the emerging literature published in the journal Electronic Markets: asynchronicity of communication (you aren’t quite in rhythm with others, especially when connections are shaky); lack of body language; lack of eye contact; increased self-awareness (you are looking at yourself a lot of the time); and interaction with multiple faces (you are focusing on many people at once in a condensed field of view, which is disorienting and (you check your email and the news while trying to pay attention to the meeting).

[Read: The Secret Cost of Working Remotely]

Researchers have discovered that videoconferencing has an impact on a wide range of brain functions. It also confuses our Global Positioning System neurons, which aid in understanding and empathizing with people, and mutes mirror neurons (which code our location). The Zoomer is simultaneously in one physical space and another—possibly very far away—virtual area in the latter scenario, which leads to confusion and exhaustion. Consider what happens to your phone’s battery when Waze is trying to locate you. It may resemble what happens to your mental energy when your brain tries to determine where you are, which could help to explain why one hour on Zoom can seem like four hours in person.

The use of video calling to the point of exhaustion has been proven to predispose to high rates of sadness, anxiety, tension, and discontent with life, even if it may be healthier to engage in virtual connections than to engage in no social interactions at all. The terrible learning outcomes during the pandemic, particularly for at-risk youth, are explained in part by the fact that virtual connection is particularly hazardous for students. Students in colleges are also covered by this rule: According to a 2021 study published in the journal NeuroRegulation, “moderate to significant difficulty with online learning” was experienced by over 94 percent of undergraduate students.

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[Thomas Kane: Children are falling behind academically]

In addition to being generally unpleasant, virtual interactions at work seem to have two main negative effects: decreased performance and less creativity. When employees utilized their camera during meetings rather than leaving it off, they were less interested throughout both the meeting that day and the one after, according to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Videoconferencing prevents the generation of original ideas, according to researchers publishing in Nature in 2022. As worker networks grow more static, virtual employment may potentially increase siloing in the workplace. In my academic sector, which depends on innovation and idea sharing, I hear these criticisms all the time. After a million faculty meetings via Zoom, one of my friends who began teaching at a new university at the outset of the pandemic told me, “I still couldn’t pick three of my colleagues out of a police lineup.”

According to the available research, some people experience Zoom fatigue much more severely than others, but for millions of people, it probably worsens wellbeing. For some people, especially young ones, this can have disastrous effects on learning and mental health. Virtual relationships are preferable than none in terms of enjoyment and productivity. But for life pleasure, involvement at work, and creativity, in-person contacts are preferable to virtual ones.

The ideal level of virtual engagement is not zero, like most things. But for many of us, the amount we are currently receiving is excessive. Virtual engagement should be viewed by each of us as being something akin to nonnutritious food: It can be used in a pinch, but we shouldn’t depend on it regularly for social sustenance because doing so will be bad for our health.

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We must cease attempting to recreate the life we once had.

Employers, educators, and friends should utilize technology wisely by making online meetings, lessons, and chats succinct and to the purpose. We should all practice excellent Zoom hygiene by setting limits on how we utilize the device. When at all possible, switch off your camera during meetings; call pals on the traditional phone; and decide with colleagues in advance when meetings must conclude, ideally after 30 minutes or less. Make sure you take regular breaks from the technology, such as no-Zoom weekends and a complete moratorium during your summer vacation, if you take one, and be aware of the sneaking symptoms of Zoom fatigue, such as burnout and despair. Last but not least, schedule time with at least one live person on your Zoomiest days.

The fact that human interaction, which is the most authentic aspect of life, feels manufactured is what annoys me the most about video-based technologies. If you’re a fan of futurism, you know that some would argue that this emotion would be rather accurate in describing our circumstance: The idea that we might all be living in a simulation of a highly developed civilisation has been advocated by numerous scientists and thinkers. As incredible as it may sound, Scientific American stated in 2020 that there is a 50/50 chance of this happening.

[Read: When Zoom is gone, you’ll miss it]

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I’m not sure how to evaluate this theory, but I don’t want it to be accurate. I want my life to be “basic reality,” with my temporary body being actual flesh and my spirit being something real and lasting. I desire real joy and true love. I think this is a philosophical argument against our unexpected entry into virtual space with one another: A simulation of real human interaction is virtual interaction. The images on the screen are not real people; rather, they are digital icons that allow me to engage with them as if they were real people.

I want to be real, and I want you to be real too. I want you to be more than just a two-dimensional pixelated image created by connecting a number of ones and zeros in cyberspace. So let’s meet up if everything is the same to you.

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