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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The rapid trajectory of videoconferencing service Zoom has entered a new phase: What started as a social lifeline during the pandemic, and then became an object of privacy and security concerns, has now become a grind.

Why it matters: Zoom is wearing a lot of us down, and as our era of enforced online work and socializing drags on, we're all going to have to learn how to better conserve our physical and psychological energy.

There are several reasons why videoconferencing is so exhausting.

1. We're using it for everything now. It would be one thing if we only used Zoom for team meetings and one-on-ones at work. But Zoom is now the go-to tool for informal social gatherings and virtual happy hours, family events and religious services, not to mention kids' online classes, doctors' appointments and perhaps a therapy session to process it all.

  • Pushing all the different facets of our lives through the same media channel means we lose the context-resetting that happens when we move, say, from office to after-work bar.
  • We also end up sitting way too much.

2. Videoconferencing imposes cognitive and psychological frictions and aggravates social anxieties. As experts in human-computer interaction point out, using Zoom means putting on a show for others without being able to rely on the cues we primates depend on in physical encounters.

  • There's usually a slight audio lag, as well as mute-button mistakes and "your internet connection is unstable"-style dropouts.
  • By showing us our own image as well as others', Zoom ensures that we will critique ourselves in real time.
  • We're also often opening a chunk of our homes for others to view, and that can trigger social worries (something that is also a big issue for kids in online classes).
  • On top of standard-grade performance anxiety, the "big face" image that Zoom uses by default in its "speaker view" can trigger a "fight-or-flight" surge of adrenaline, writes Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford's Human Computer Interaction Lab.
  • If you switch to the "Hollywood Squares"-style "gallery view," you're confronted with a sea of separated faces, which is not how evolution has adapted us to group interactions.
  • As L.M. Sacasas observes, you can't really achieve true eye contact with anyone: If you look right into someone else's eyes, you will appear to them as if you aren't looking right at them — to achieve that, you have to look right at the camera.
  • Nonetheless, the whole experience of a videoconference feels to us like an extended bout of direct staring at other people staring back at us. That's draining, which is why it's not what actually happens when we meet in person, where we only occasionally look right at one another.

3. Zoom is exhausting because, right now, everything is exhausting.

  • The reason we're all on videoconferences now is that our lives have been turned upside down. That's tiring in itself.
  • Also, Zoom fatigue could result from the simple fact that every videoconference serves as a reminder of how our lives have changed, how much we may have lost already, and how unlikely it is that things will ever "return to normal" — as Evan Selinger writes in Medium's OneZero.

Our thought bubble: Not everything needs to be a Zoom meeting. Phone calls still work fine too.

The bottom line: Once you tire of certain things, it means that you are tired of life.

  • Samuel Johnson famously said that about London.
  • No one has ever said it about videoconferencing.

Go deeper

Trump's Republican critics rake in cash

Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger during the first Jan. 6 hearing. Photo: Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

Republican critics of Donald Trump have raked in campaign cash this year as their votes to impeach the former president and investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack have put them in the crosshairs of Trump and his allies.

Why it matters: The 2022 midterms won't just determine which party controls Congress. They're also shaping up to be a test of Trump's continued hold on the GOP. The few remaining Republican dissenters in Washington need to put up big fundraising numbers if they hope to stave off a purge.

The Republicans' mixed mandate message

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republicans have expressed selective rage amid the rise of the Delta variant: They rail against the return of indoor masking but are far less vocal about vaccine requirements.

Why it matters: Masking may help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but the real solution to the pandemic is getting more Americans vaccinated. Increased support for that — including the use of heavier-handed methods like mandates — will only increase its chance of succeeding.

Mitch’s Sinema secret

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is urging his fellow Republicans to buck up Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — a Democrat, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans view Sinema and her moderate Democratic colleague Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as their last line of defense against sweeping progressive laws — ranging from a $3.5 trillion social welfare bill to potentially irreversible structural changes like eliminating the filibuster and adding new states to the union.