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Living In A Virtual World

Can I get a (virtual) hands up if you never participated in a video call before #thevirus and social separation became our temporary norm? I know that Facetime and WhatsApp and MarcoPolo and other video chatting apps have been around for a while, but I never used them. I’ve mentioned before that I work from home full-time, and my co-workers are all scattered across the country, so conference calls are the bane of my existence a normal part of my daily work life, but I’ve really never had the opportunity (or need) for video conferencing.

My, what a different experience a video call is. First, where do I look? Do I look at the camera? Or do I look at the image of the person who is talking to me? Am I making eye contact, or do I look like I’m weirdly distracted? Second, wow, the sound quality is pretty much exactly the same as any other conference call I’ve been on. Third, and to me, actually the most important, WHY IN THE WORLD DO I HAVE TO SEE MYSELF AS WELL AS EVERYBODY ELSE?

I mean, seriously, that’s a design flaw. I know I can turn off my camera, but I don’t actually mind other people seeing me (I get it – that face I don’t actually recognize is genuinely ME, and that’s the way I look to everyone else). *I* just don’t want to see me. When I’m on a conference call, I don’t have to HEAR myself – so why do I need to see that weird way I contort my face when I’m laughing? Or talking? Or just listening? Also, why do I contort my face in that weird way literally all the time??

(If you are a computer programmer – please feel free to run with this idea and make a video call app where I don’t have to see myself. You don’t even have to give me credit for coming up with the idea.)

{also, pretty sure I’m not the first one to come up with this idea}

This week the library held our second virtual “We Don’t Just Talk About the Book” book club. And I realized that I’m definitely not alone in feeling weirded out. I think not wanting to see ourselves is actually kind of normal. Even people who appear in front of cameras for a living can find it off-putting (I read an article once about the actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who suffers extreme anxiety if he watches any of his own movies. And he’s making weird faces on purpose!!!)

At the same time, it’s been a wonderful and soothing way for me to connect with family and friends right now. I’m trying to train my eye to just stop looking at the image of myself (50% success rate, so far). I’m paying more attention to everyone else. When I’m getting distracted/noticing some imagined flaw on my face, I try to remember that I’m laughing and being social and it’s very healing.

Because that’s the thing. Those silly expressions I’m making? That weird fly-away hair that I can’t get to calm down? I’m the only one noticing them. I’m the one being hypercritical of myself. My friends aren’t. My friends and family are laughing, and talking, and discussing books we’ve read, and what news we have heard and what it means, and *they’re* being distracted by what they think is their weird expression or bad hair – but what I’m noticing is how much I’m enjoying them. The time with them. The fact that we can be grateful for this technology that allows this.

So please, stay safe, wash your hands, read a book, if you’re struggling reach out to someone who can help, and hop on that video chat you’ve been dreading and try not to notice whatever perceived flaw you think you see. I promise, it’s not there.

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