Zoom Fatigue: How to Overcome

A whiteboard is shown and for each day of the week, scheduled online meetings on zoom or facetime.
Zoom Fatigue! Photo Illustration: Dave Cole/WSJ

Dear Ms. Smartphone: After a meeting or two on Zoom, and even a catch-up with girl friends, I am zonked out. Sometimes I skip meals because I feel so fatigued and crawl into bed. It’s just the opposite for my son, who is now home from college. He goes on Zoom in the evening with his friends, and stays on it for hours. Then he’s spry and awake! Is this an age thing or something else?  Rupa, Berkeley

Dear Rupa: A lot of parents are asking the same thing. For elders, it’s an age thing because we did not come of age in the time of zoom. And, the two-way technology is still evolving so there are lots of asynchronous moments and dropped connections to challenge our patience. In a previous post I noted how our physical communications depend on being able to interpret very subtle non-verbal cues like an upturned smile, the twitch of an eye, or the flick of the hair. Most of these cues are at a subliminal level. Zoom meetings, as well as informal chats with our friends, can be stressful for those of us used to processing our social cues differently. 

The Lack of Multitasking

Like you, I find video chats to be draining but for an additional reason; it’s the absence of multi-tasking. When you phone me, say on a voice call or text, I might be doing other things….but you can’t see that.  We have gotten used to being mobile and doing lots of (other) things when we have 2 way communication. That level of distraction works most of the time, but not in the car. Focusing for an extended time on the red dot of the camera feels like I am in line-up in a police station (not that I will confess to that!)

Search for Best Zoom Games

When your son goes on Zoom and feels spry afterwards, that’s because he engages with his friends and content, in an entirely different manner. There are lots of third-party sites to link to, The list of games is long…but familiar. Search for games to play on Zoom: you’ll find Monopoly, Battleship, Pictionary, Guess Who, and many many more. Then there are the ‘Drinking Game’ versions, like Battleship with shot glasses….you get the picture! And, to my point about multi-tasking, just one kid needs to be on a computer. The rest can join in on their phones.  That means that they do not have to stay stationary, with eyes glued to the red dot. They are probably moving around the room, browsing other screens, and, of course, eating and drinking.


In these times of quarantine, I would encourage anyone to try out these games with an old established  friend and picture yourself as a young teen. Experiment together. Put it this way: Imagine that it was 1915 and your family had just installed a new Bell phone. You were advised to use it only for emergencies or something urgent. Now fast-forward to 1960, and you are a teen, able to spend hours after school conversing with friends on Bell phones. My point is that technology changes over time, and what is once serious business morphs into social play.

Quibi Good For Phone?

Would Quibi be a good thing to add to my daily phone routine?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My phone and I are inseparable this month! So, I was wondering would ‘DearSmartphone’ add Quibi to the daily routine? My girlfriend finds the videos entertaining and watches them regularly during Quibi’s free trial. I am worried that if I start using watching it could become addictive and I will be spending yet more time on my small screen. Jacob, Mill Valley

Dear Jacob: When Quibi offers Dear Smartphone a contract for a live weekly show, I will surely be encouraging you to watch it regularly. For those who have not heard, Quibi is a platform that provides TV-like content in attention-grabbing eight to ten minute mini bites for phones. It is a large expensive arranged marriage between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

To answer your question I downloaded the free version of Quibi with ads. There was no opportunity to onboard and the content jumped to a slick ad for Pepsi Lite . Then I was shown an eight minute thriller about a blond haired lady from LA, driving Uber, texting as she drove. Quibi certainly got my demographics and interests spot-on, but it was a real no-no in 2020 to depict someone so clueless to text while driving. An old-fashioned out-dated view.

Since Quibi had my interests pinned, I wondered if Quibi had access to my digital wallet and receipts? Would they know if I purchased Pepsi Lite or a similar beverage? Here Quibi could find its Orwellian moment: a perfect tracking vehicle for advertisers. I watched more content and found, like your girlfriend, that some of it was entertaining- a fast video version of People magazine. I often liked the ads more than the show, just like Super-Bowl ad trailers.

But, your question about addiction and spending more time on the phone is the real issue. Recall the wit of Marshall McLuhan who coined that ‘the medium is the message (or massage).* Since the very start Bell Phones have been used for two-way communications, business, and relationship building. We continue that convention today through Instagram, Facebook, text, and voice. Quibi, meanwhile, plays like a throw-back to one-way cinema.

There’s already a video competitor called Tik-Toc. Not yet my skill-set but it is said to make video on the phone two-way, interactive and “fun”. So, read the review from TechCrunch, and first decide how you want to allocate your time. Then, if you wish, sharpen your video watching, video producing skills.

How Will Teens Study From Home?

During the Corina Virus ISPs are waiving fees for data plans. This block text from Comcast describes the offering. The link goes to a site called digitalinclusion.org

Dear Ms. Smartphone: For the rest of this school year my son (grade 11) will take high-school classes at home via computer. We live in an urban area, and while we don’t have the same issues as another nearby public school, we worry about the inequities. Many of my son’s friends are on teams at that other school, and these kids (used to) hang out at my house. Of course, everyone is at home now.  I worry that these kids will fall behind if they cannot get online and complete the school year like we can. Dionne, Albany

Dear Dionne: School districts everywhere are having a difficult transition. It is not just about changing the curriculum from classroom to digital instruction so that students cover the requisite material and graduate on time.  It is also about maintaining cybersecurity and student privacy, and, as you intuit, providing each student with digital access and electronic devices. 

Internet for All:

At the beginning of the Internet (The Information Super Highway) there was concern over the digital divide: would the less privileged fall behind?  Two things turned the tables (maybe more too). The ability to access the internet jumped from computers to smartphones. For nearly a decade anyone with an inexpensive smartphone and WiFi has access to the full Internet: e.g. job searches, tutorials, Wikipedia, maps, etc. A data plan is not a necessity. But, a FCC policy called Lifeline service, introduced in 1985, makes data available too. With Lifeline, eligible households get a discount for wireless service, broadband internet access and broadband voice bundles. 

Today, ninety-five percent of teens say they have access to smartphones, and they can use them to find hotspots in novel, creative ways that run circles around their elders. Phones now have the capacity to carry television broadcasts (Quibi), so why not school lessons?  I am not recommending that kids permanently follow their teachers on a smartphone, but it could be a make-shift solution, particularly if they dial-down two-way video. During the quarantine, almost all telcos and internet service providers have waived monthly data limits. Still, we can help kids identify places that offer social distancing and WiFi together, like library parking lots. 

Common Sense Media Means Education:

There is a trove of information to be found on Common Sense Education. They thought about this long before the current crisis and have a seminal 2019 report called “The Homework Gap…Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide.” For the current times, they provide a list of free and low-cost internet offers. When I put in an Albany zip code, it returned three “free” offers for Internet service (see image). Common Sense Education also points to a site called pcsforpeople where you can donate your old computer and have it refurbished for eligible individuals and non-profits. (Full disclosure: the website had fulfillment delays on 4/9/19). 

If your son’s friends live in a more rural part of the state they might be experiencing difficulties getting full connectivity and fast-enough speeds to stream their school lessons. In more urban areas like yours, students, educators, and parents need to search out where there is existing broadband access, and they might discover it to be within their own home or apartment.