The rise and fall of the video call is something many of us have lived over the last nine months. At first, they were the best way to keep in contact with friends, family and colleagues, offering a flicker of the intimacy we were missing from hugs and in-person banter.
After a while, though, they started to peter out. A weekend full of Zoom calls left me feeling trapped, tired and for some (me very much included) it became draining to try and replicate the dynamic of an in-person conversation through a laptop screen.
But as the anniversary of the first lockdown looms, a better method is yet to be invented – as far as I know, holograms are still a way off for a general household use. So, personally, I find myself re-entering the cycle of planning, dreading and then enduring video calls so I can maintain relationships with people that matter a lot to me, but that by now, I may not have seen in almost a year.
I’m not the only one who finds these calls exhausting. Speaking to Stylist, reader Meredith Jones, 29, explains that the energy a video call takes can leave her feeling frustrated and irritated afterwards.
“I feel selfish saying this,” she starts. “I know I’m extremely lucky to have lovely friends who care about me enough to want to keep in touch and that turning down an offer to video call someone you love would be a pretty obnoxious thing to do, but I’ve been finding them so draining.”
“Spending all day sitting at a laptop (if you’re working from home), to then spend all evening in the same position isn’t a nice feeling. Even if I’m happy to speak to the person on the other side of the screen, I’m generally waiting for the call to end so I can take a portion of my evening back for me.”
And I couldn’t agree more. As lockdown continues it seems that the methods of keeping in touch that were popular to start with are coming back around as the time between seeing loved ones gets longer.
A few weeks ago, three video calls I had scheduled in with friends landed within the same few days. The first was a reunion of university friends, with five of us joining the call from all over the world. It was amazing to see their faces but, as is classic with multiple people on a call like this, people dropped in at different times.
One friend who had some work to do arrived 20 minutes late. Another who has a young child was 45 minutes late. The third who had been on a call for her business joined after an hour. Once we were all together, the call went on for another two hours, which meant for those of us who joined on time, our entire evenings had been swallowed from 7pm until 10pm.
The call was lovely, but it was disorienting finishing work at 6.30pm and join a call at 7pm. Then, having spent the entire evening static at a screen, to go to bed at 10.30pm and wake up in the morning only to log back in again for work. I felt like I was in a science fiction film.
The other calls throughout the week followed a similar pattern. Friends who were furloughed or freelance didn’t seem to mind spending hours on a video call and by Thursday I felt emotionally depleted, tired and like I was stuck in a hamster wheel.
It was by chance, as I called a friend on a morning walk, that a deadline of starting work cut us off after 45 minutes. This is when I realised how good this amount of interaction had made me feel.
So, I tried it again. Calling another friend on my lunch break a few days later, I explained beforehand I only had 45 minutes. We gabbled excitedly and caught up on all the big things. Afterwards, I felt revived and buzzing. It had been great to laugh and hear her news, but I still had 15 minutes to make a cup of tea and the rest of my day was still ahead of me.
I realised that 45 minutes might be my golden number. While I love spending hours with friends in the ‘real world’, anything past 60 minutes over technology makes me feel like I haven’t been present that day or looked after my own needs.
This was the beginning of my new rule. When a pal offered to chat I simply said: “That sounds great, I’m free from 7.15pm until 8pm. Does that work for you?”. I have encountered a few virtual eyerolls and comments such as, “Wow, you’re very organised, aren’t you?”. But, I’ve explained in as warm a way possible that I feel run down if I spend too much time on my laptop.
I have definitely seen a change. When I think about a week littered with video calls I don’t feel the same sense of dread or that I’m being backed into a corner. I now see this time as a portion of my evening and not the whole thing.
To make sure that I don’t just zone out on the sofa afterwards I’ve also set myself tasks or notes on what to read or do after these calls, turning the evening into a productive one.
So, while 45 minutes may not sound like a lot, if it’s good, quality time spent then it may do better at saving your relationships than spending hours on the phone that leave a bad taste in your mouth.