Disconnected Connection

Disconnected Connection

“It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.”–Gianpiero Petriglieri

Yes, Zoom Exhaustion is real. As we continue to work from home, visit family and friends on the screen, or go to school virtually, we are spending a lot more time on Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Google Meet and the list goes on…and this is exhausting.

But why so exhausting?  Is it that hard to spend hours in front of a screen interacting with people while sitting in the comfort of our own homes?  Our kids have no trouble with it.  Why is that more difficult to be online with people than face-to-face, in a classroom or around a conference table?

We know that the quality of our interactions is different online than in person. In some ways online interactions are rich.  But like a piece of chocolate cake, too much is simply . . . too much.  When we are with others online, we hyper-focus on the few visual clues we have.  If you are with me face-to-face, I see your whole body.  I can (even without thinking about it) process your body movements.  I can see your leg shaking, or your hands wringing. I can see you knitting or playing a game on your phone.  But I can’t see those things when all I see is your face on a screen.  So, I intently focus on that as I listen to you.

If we are on Zoom with several people at once, we also process visual cues from everyone at once and can become over-stimulated.  Each new piece of information pushes us a bit further away from the personal contact we crave, into the presence of each other’s absence, as Italian management professor Petriglieari said so well in a recent tweet.

This disconnected connection – or connected disconnection – is exhausting.  Steve Hickman, in the April issue of Mindful, offers six ways to stay connected in this new world:

  1. Take a few moments before clicking start to ground your attention. Take a few breaths, notice what is present in your mind.  If you’re feeling preoccupied, put your hand on your heart in a supportive way as if to say, “I’m here for you.  It’s OK to feel how you feel.”
  2. Take the time to truly greet whoever is in the online room with your full attention. Let each person make an impression on you.  Feel what it is like to be in the presence of another.
  3. Choose speaker view rather than gallery view in Zoom so the speaker takes center stage on the screen while the others are peripheral. This can help us focus.
  4. Resist the urge to multitask. We cannot fully attend to the person speaking to us if we are reading or firing off emails while attending a meeting.  It is fine to ease our screen focus by looking out the window behind the screen, or to soften our gaze to observe the array of faces on the screen without analyzing any of them.
  5. Take breaks between online meetings. Write notes, get a drink of water, stretch or decompress.
  6. Embrace the in-between zone – the zone between presence and absence. It is better than absence (can you imagine life in a pandemic without FaceTime, Zoom, Skype etc.?)  It is not as resonant as presence (do mirror neurons function over the Internet as they do in person?).

It is our challenge to find a way to assimilate this new technology into the full spectrum of interpersonal experiences our new lives include – present to absence without being absent to presence.

Carol Pitts, PhD, LPC, LMFT, CPCS, is Clinical Director of CHRIS Counseling Center DeKalb.  You can reach her at [email protected].

Carol Pitts, PhD, LPC, LMFT, CPCS
[email protected]
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