In the time it takes me to close all 47 unread tabs in my browser, it will be a year since we were all forced to change face time for Zoom. I mean, the pandemic put an end to stuttering, too-long in-person meetings, and gave us stuttering, too-long video meetings on Zoom. Or the GoogleMeetHangout. Also accidental group WhatsApp calls. And, for just 15 seconds, Houseparty.
Throughout this year of video conferencing, I have spent much more time than I would like to look at my face. My awful, actually maybe not that bad, mostly just really, really average face.
It’s hard not to get almost mesmerized by our faces when we jump from one Zoom call to another. Broadcasting from our small makeshift home offices with nowhere to go, there’s not much else to distract us. We are supposed to be listening to a colleague or family member, but our gaze begins to fall on the box with our own head inside. Despite years of selfies, we’re not used to so many unforgiving live images of our own faces. It took many of us until the second crash to realize that it could get rid of its own display from the Zoom head array. Hide self view. But then once we did that, we started wondering – worrying what we were really doing with our faces as we tried to listen carefully to whoever was speaking. Show self view.
The first thing I noticed that I didn’t like looking at myself was that he seemed to speak out the side of my mouth. It’s like you can’t open it all the way; words are trapped when exiting. Sometimes when gossiping with a friend, I speak in an exaggerated stage whisper with the far side of my mouth, like a taxi driver saying something risque over his shoulder, but seeing it returned to me on screen was punishment.
It was then that I focused on the lower half of my face. I haven’t liked my looming double chin for a long time: your familiar double chin, your Mitch McConnell. But he was getting a terrible new perspective on it. I began to cover my chinless chin with my hand, hiding that suction cup in false concentration. He hoped that colleagues, friends, and family couldn’t see the consequent horror of the sagging skin hanging underneath. But mostly, I hid it so I couldn’t see it. Of course, presumably most people weren’t paying much attention to me. They were doing what I was doing.
I adjusted the screen often, pushing it back and forth, hoping in vain to find the perfect angle and light. Why did I look so pale compared to everyone else? Maybe he just needed one of those influential lights that is so much talked about. (Is there a tax exemption for them?) But light can only do so much.
Of course, I am exaggerating. I don’t really hate my face. Well I do, but no that a lot of. It is more of a minor architectural monstrosity than an industrial stain on the landscape. I guess what I mean is that we shouldn’t see ourselves for so long, so often. It is not natural. The intense focus of the past year – on our own faces, on our own walls, on our own screens, in our own kitchen – has seemed relentless, inescapable. There is no release valve or smooth way to get away from this focus.
There is a line in Dana Spiotta’s 2001 novel Lightning Field that has always stuck with me, or rather, I quote trinely from time to time: “The truth of things was revealed in their destruction. “ Since the pandemic began, we have seen versions of this game on both large and small scales. Concepts that were taken as fact; the values, ideas and institutions that were considered true were distributed and squeezed to their limits, their strengths and truths tested and tracked, many of them altering in ways that not all of us imagine.
Sitting on my laptop, day to day, Zoom by Zoom, I saw the truth on my face. There is a mental vision I had of this face before endlessly faced with reality: a better proportioned, more angular one. In fact, I almost have a picture of him, or something like that. At the last New Year’s Eve pre-pandemic party, PP, someone took a photo of me almost as I would like to be. I’m smiling, my jaw and chin vaguely defined. I hold a drink. I am in company. You feel optimistic. Everything went downhill from there.
In the past year, we’ve all gotten stuck looking at these video screens: speaker, gallery, full screen, screen share, pin, remove pin. But mostly, if we are honest, we have been looking at ourselves. Our pandemic mirror.
It has almost felt like one of those intense acting methods, where a teacher in a dramatic headscarf and a group of former acolytes of theater children insist on “breaking down” their students’ characters so that they can later be rebuilt as a blackboard. in white. interpreter artists or executants. Except the master’s plan doesn’t extend beyond the deep part of looking and navel breaking.
After an extremely long period, it seems we could be slowly coming out of the pandemic: stretching, blinking into the light, touching our faces. We cannot be sure how we will feel, beyond the initial blessed relief. But we will surely change in ways that we cannot yet fully map out. However, I’ll be happy not to look at my face so regularly. Leave the meeting.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism