The new almost-daily occurrence of video calls fills me with an overwhelming sense of dread.
Every morning at 8:30 on the dot, I join a Google Hangout for work. Since the stay-at-home orders began in the Netherlands on March 16, it feels like my life is one video call after another.
Besides work, I’m finishing my second Master’s degree, and all my classes have moved online. While I’m used to taking classes in this format, I’ve never had to take part in a virtual happy hour with an entire class. There we were: 50 faces on the screen, each one looking at the others. If that set-up wasn’t awkward enough, we took turns telling everyone how we were faring and what we were drinking. Love it. Sure. Clink.
I’ve also joined several Zoom meetings with friends back home in the States. I found myself eating dinner while staring at everyone else’s lunch. I had to play the mute/unmute game between bites, but of course, even that didn’t cover the accidental side conversations I had with my husband.
It doesn’t help that I’m trying to do all this with my lovable but crazy toddler running around. I tend to mute myself about 90% of the time because he’s either hanging off me like a monkey or trying to close my computer. The other day, he put on shoes that light up and came stomping into the room saying, “Mama, look at the light,” while I was having a conversation with my manager.
Video Calls Are Exhausting
Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely grateful for this technology, as it allows us to connect at any moment in time and see the people we care about the most — even while we’re distanced from them physically.
But as an introvert, the new almost-daily occurrence of video calls gives me an overwhelming sense of dread. As in, Oh my goodness. Do I really have to log into ANOTHER virtual meeting with 10 people talking over each other?
There are countless introvert memes circling around, talking about how introverts are finally in their element, but this new development makes my digital life feel more painful than paradisiacal. Video calls may exhaust everyone on some level, but if you’re an introvert, they’re a special kind of nightmare.
Why Video Meetings Are a Nightmare for Introverts
1. There goes the internet connection — again!
Maybe it’s just me, but my internet connection has been on and off since everyone’s staying home. You might think, no big deal — just reconnect and ta-da! Well, not so fast. If I’m in the middle of presenting or working through my thought process, and I find out something glitched, I have to play that awkward dance of logging back on and figuring out what the group last heard.
As an introvert, it already takes me forever to speak my mind. So remembering what I was talking about before things were interrupted, then trying to pick back up like it’s no big deal is nightmarish. That goes double when spotty internet causes me to miss someone else’s important point. By the time I log back on, I hate being the person who has to draw attention to myself by interrupting the speaker to ask them to repeat themselves.
2. Interruptions, interruptions, interruptions
Is there etiquette on virtual interruptions? Usually in a face-to-face meeting, I’d raise my hand or make a gesture to signal to the speaker that I have something to say. In Zoom, there’s the digital version of raising your hand, but not everyone pays attention to it. And what happens if you use another platform?
This is how it has gone down: I press unmute and excuse myself for interrupting. But the person continues talking, so I assume they didn’t hear me (that darn lag again?). The introvert in me pretends it never happened because there’s no way I’m going to repeat myself — I’m already too nervous.
Except, a few seconds later they stop talking and wait for my comment. It takes me a few seconds to gather myself, but by the time I start talking, they’ve moved on. So here we are again, doing the awkward song and dance of talking over each other. Cue my embarrassment.
3. Virtual happy hours are not happy
Social video calls aren’t more comfortable than the professional ones! Having a recurring virtual meeting with a big group every few days is overwhelming. After one or two social video hangouts with different friend groups, I’m wiped out. I’m already texting and messaging individually with all of them — I don’t need to spend another hour every other day on a screen to talk about the same thing.
As an introvert, I tend to role-play how a conversation will go so I’m prepared for it. Now that I’m already exhausting all my words through texting, I’m extremely anxious about opening up the computer and having to come up with other things to talk about. It’s too stressful! Let’s face it, 99% of the time lately, my days are exactly the same – I have nothing to talk about.
And the funny part about being invited to so many of these meetings? There’s no excuse not to attend! The irony.
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4. There’s nowhere to hide!
Usually when I’m in a social gathering and my energy has been completely sucked, I look for a way out. I excuse myself to take a mental break, like hiding in the bathroom, or I pretend I have to be somewhere else or call someone. The good thing about those scenarios is when I return, people have shifted positions in the room, so I’m free to move about as well.
In a virtual meeting, there’s nowhere to go — and introverts need breathers at social events in order to survive. Sure, I can open a few internet tabs if the conversation takes a turn that doesn’t involve me, so it seems that I’m still staring at the screen, but then I have to focus on my facial expression so it doesn’t look like I’m reading a novel on my computer. I can’t go hide in the bathroom either, and I certainly can’t pretend to be somewhere else.
And even so, if I were to do that, when I came back, people would still be in the same spot on my screen, forcing me to continue fishing for conversation topics with the same people.
5. Social anxiety feels worse somehow
Whether it’s a social or professional video call, I find myself cutting sentences short and fast-tracking through my thoughts because I can see people getting distracted. And I get it, we all have a lot on our minds these days with many balancing work and life in big, exhausting ways. But because of my introversion, I’m already uncomfortable with all eyes on me when I speak, so I end up mutilating everything I say. I sound like someone who is just learning the language. Because of all of this — boom! — my social anxiety pays a visit. Just another thing to worry about.
The crazy part is how much my perspective about social interactions has changed as an introvert thanks to video calls. As much as I enjoy interacting with coworkers and friends, I strongly prefer face-to-face communication over this. I’m looking forward to the day when virtual meetings subside.
In the meantime, at least I have a better understanding of why, as an introvert, video calls are the absolute pits. If you’re feeling the same way, you’re not alone.