Covid has normalised video calls for everything, and I’m not OK with it
Given the fiery, all-consuming hatred I have for talking on the phone, it will come as no surprise to anyone to learn that I’ve always hated video calls, too.
The weird intrusiveness of them.
The need to be looking presentable for them at all times.
The panic you feel when you’re scrolling through your phone on the toilet (Oh, don’t pretend you’ve never done it…), and it suddenly flashes up with an incoming Facetime request. Just one slip of the finger as you try to reject it, and whoever’s on the other end of that call is effectively going to be joining you in the bathroom, aren’t they? Who wants THAT, I ask you?
The sheer, triggering horror of being confronted with YOUR OWN TINY FACE in the corner of the screen, always looking 100 x worse than you do in the mirror, for some reason. I personally look like a cross between Gollum and the creepy old woman from Insidious in video calls, for instance, and it’s… well, it’s distracting. And also kind of disturbing, really. Like, is that ACTUALLY what I look like? Is everyone else on the call seeing the same thing as me? And do I look like that in real life, too, or is it just some weird, video call thing that I can put to the back of my mind as soon as I hang up? These are not rhetorical questions, people, I need to know…
(Yes, I know there’s a magic setting that takes your own face off the screen. I never seem to remember to use it, though…)
Where was I?
Oh yeah, video calls. Never been a fan. In fact, up until March of 2020, I had steadfastly refused to have Skype, or Zoom, or any of those apps on my phone: because, if I didn’t have them, no one could expect me to use them, and that was just fine by me, because, as far as I was concerned, video calls were strictly for The Others, and The Others were welcome to them.
Then, of course, the pandemic hit, the first lockdown started, and, all of a sudden, I was downloading Zoom, and Googling the merits of Facetime Vs Skype. Yes.
During that first, strictest lockdown, we didn’t leave the house or see another soul, other than the postman, and the Tesco delivery driver. Instead, we Face-timed my parents every day, so Max didn’t forget what they looked like, and set up regular Zoom calls with various friends. And you know what?
I loved it.
It surprised me as much as anyone else, but those calls helped keep us sane, and allowed us to stay close to people we otherwise wouldn’t have seen for months on end. We enjoyed them so much, in fact, that we’ve continued doing them with some of our non-local friends, and – Gollum/ Creepy Woman issues aside – they’re something we always look forward to.
Lately I’ve found that the video call requests have moved away from the purely personal, and have started to infiltrate … well, everything, really.
And I’m not OK with that.
The thing is, unlike those of you with “real” jobs, who need to communicate with clients and co-workers on the regular, I have absolutely no need for video calls in my day-to-day life. None whatsoever. I do not have clients. I do not have colleagues. I do not have friends. No, I work from home, all on my lonesome, and there is literally NO REASON why anyone should have to – or, indeed, want to – look at me while I’m doing it.
And yet, increasingly often, people do. Because, the thing is, the pandemic has normalised video calls now to the extent that EVERYONE is at it: even people who wouldn’t even have previously needed to call me (On the phone, I mean. Like in olden times?) are now deciding that they need to video call me. Which, I mean, how should they die? No, really?
So, the PR who would previously have just emailed over an irrelevant press release and left it at that, now wants to set up a video call to discuss the irrelevant press release.
The brand looking for a sponsored post on my blog would apparently like to be able to see my face, as well as my rate card. Which is pretty awkward, really, because this is my face when brands get my quote, then offer me 5% of what I’ve asked for, plus all rights to my work:
Product launches, which would normally be done online, meanwhile, now seem to involve three-hour Zoom calls, and don’t even get me started on all of those events that I used to easily be able to get out by pointing out that I live in the middle of nowhere, but which are now being live streamed into my living room, with the expectation that me and my Gollum face be in attendance.
I am deeply confused by all of this, naturally. I mean, I’m a writer: I write things. You don’t need to see my face, or the inside of my house to know whether I’ll be able to write something, you just need to see my writing. So demanding a video call over it always feels really intrusive to me: I know people (presumably) don’t intend it that way (OR DO THEY?), but when someone who would never have previously have requested a face-to-face meeting, or even a phone call with me, is suddenly insisting that they MUST see my face in order to discuss something writing-related, it’s weird to me. Trust me, folks: if my writing alone wasn’t enough to win you over, my face definitely isn’t going to do it. Nuh-uh.
I’m not gonna lie, I’m HATING this.
And, I mean, I’m not actually DOING any of it, obviously, because, thankfully there is no way (so far) that anyone can actually MAKE me attend any of these calls. But I am having to become increasingly creative with my excuses to avoid them (It’s easy to explain why I won’t be traveling from Scotland to London for your 15 minute product presentation, but a little bit harder to pretend there is absolutely no possible way I can EVER take part in a video call, after all…), and, I dunno, I just feel like my repeated refusal to take part in these things basically “outs” me as the antisocial bitch I am, a little bit earlier in my relationship with most people than I’d ideally like.
In an ideal world, you see, I like to try to pretend that I’m a fairly nice, normal person, at least until I’ve gotten to know someone: and that’s not really possible when a brand asks you to join their Zoom party so many times that you basically end up having to say, “Sorry, I can’t, because I would absolutely hate that.”
“Just do it!” I hear (some of) you say. “It’ll be fun!”
a) No, it won’t.
b) It’ll be awkward as all hell.
c) Why do people now expect to see the inside of my home just to discuss something that could easily have been an email?
d) I miss email. It was the best. I could read it in my own time, answer it when it was convenient, and carefully edit my response to make myself sound like I knew what I was talking about. Here, though, is some actual footage of me on a Zoom call with a random PR person who’s trying to get me to do something:
Yes, it’s THAT bad.
More than anything else, though, I can’t help feeling that, if I give in to the pressure of the video calls, the Extroverts will have won. They’ll have finally found a way to infiltrate my safe haven with their forced socialising, making me feel like I can’t even relax in my own home in case a complete stranger decides to essentially invite themselves into it, just to have a conversation that could have been a two-line email. </ DRAMA>
Video calls are not a safe space for the awkward, or the socially anxious, in other words. And also? We hate them. Instead of normalising face-to-face calls for every little thing, then, let’s normalise just saying NO to the things that make us uncomfortable. And while we’re at it, let’s bring back email. Who’s with me?