The highs and lows of the video call

We’ve been video calling each other for around a decade, well at least I have. Sometimes I think it’s a blessing, sometimes I think it’s a curse. Sometimes it’s totally necessary, other times I just can’t understand why a normal phone call wouldn’t have sufficed. Can you relate?

The early days of video calls

Skype. “This is amazing!” – Not sure if that’s a direct quote by myself or anyone else who I ‘skyped’ (relatively new verb in the English language) during my first semester abroad in Spain, 2011, but someone must have said it.

I was more than happy to plonk my massive laptop on my desk, ready to skype at the scheduled time. It was just so cool to be able to see my friends and family whilst talking to them for free and live in another country. That was a high. A massive high, and I was loving it.

Things became normal

After a while, video calls became a regular thing. I can’t quite remember when I started Whatsapp calling people, but by time I did my second semester abroad in Germany, 2012, the days of Black Berry Messenger were over and Whatsapp had us going crazy for group chats, voice notes and, come 2016, video calls.

I’ve personally never used iMessage or Facebook Messenger in the same way I use Whatsapp, but they’re all pretty much the same. And one thing’s for sure: we are no longer using pay phones, phone cards or sending SMS messages which could cost something ridiculous like 60 bloody pence per message!

Video calling via your hand held computer was a flipping high and everyone, absolutely everyone (within reason) was doing it.

Video calls vs phone calls

So here’s my first low. When speaking on the phone, it’s like my body automatically goes into ‘utilise your time well’ mode. My headphones go on, my mobile goes in my pocket, and I do something useful around the house. Might sound crazy, but I think I got it from my mum. We are both busy bodies who love to multitask – ha! So imagine my lack of amusement when I’m expected to sit statically for an hour whilst catching up with a friend via video call. You know that head exploding emoji? The one with the brain-like cloud? That’s me. Low.

Now let’s not be extreme, this of course doesn’t apply to all cases. I love seeing my friends and families’ faces, especially the kids. But after around 15 mins, I’m like “ok, I love you, but let’s either talk normally so I can use my head phones or sorry, but I need to do a few things so I’ve gotta go.”

It’s just, considering it’s no longer 2011, and we can now video call from our mobiles, these video calls are normally unexpected. It’s awkward holding my phone at an angle where I look mildly decent angel, and 20 minutes of seeing up my nose is more than enough. This is a low, for sure.

Corona virus and the video call

Two weeks into lockdown and I was more than happy to have constant video calls with both friends and colleagues. I was on lockdown alone and I enjoyed seeing familiar faces as I adapted to always being at home. High. Super high.

Weeks turned into months and the novelty started to wear off. It wasn’t just video calls during my 9-5, but in the evenings and on the weekends too. One Saturday I even spent 5 hours (!!!) doing video calls with 3 different groups of people. Honestly, it was just too much. And whilst I am grateful to have this technology during such a time; being grateful for video calls and feeling exhausted by them are not mutually exclusive. Low.

And I believe I’m not alone. 82% of people who answered my Instagram poll “Anyone else over this video call thing?”  said “yes”.

I mean, we’ve all had that work meeting via video call:

  • You stare at each others’ faces with an awkward smile and wait in an even more awkward silence until the late-comer arrives,
  • who then compensates (whilst looking flustered) when justifying why they’re late, in fear that everyone thinks they were taking a cheeky nap whilst working from home.
  • Then the person leading the video call doesn’t realise they’re on mute until after 5 seconds of speaking –  which is a bloody long time when you can’t lip read.
  • Then someone’s video goes blurry as their internet connection weakens,
  • whilst everyone else tries their best to stay focused, hoping the light is good enough that their facial expressions can be seen, whilst trying to read the pixilated body language of 5 other people in separate little boxes.

The possibilities are endless. And we are SO lucky to have such technology that allows us to work from home on a long-term basis, but the numerous work video calls followed by the numerous social video calls can be deflating. I want this to be a high but I’m at a point where overdrive of the video call means it’s sometimes a huge low.

Going forward

If there’s one thing that lockdown has taught us, it’s that we don’t need to be in the office as much as we previously were. The video call has been a huge part of making that happen. When we can eventually socialise as normal and the amount of video calls decrease, they’ll definitely make their way back into my ‘high’ category, where I think they really belong.

There’s one thing I must say though: It’s been SO nice to attend the birthday events of all of my friends from home, even if it is via video call. Since moving abroad, this is something I’ve really missed. And whilst the video call can be tiring, I can only say I’m happy to have been a part of that.

High.

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