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Stanford study into “Zoom Fatigue” explains why video chats are so tiring

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A new study from Stanford University communications expert Jeremy Bailenson is investigating the very modern phenomenon of “Zoom Fatigue.” Bailenson suggests there are four key factors that make videoconferencing so uniquely tiring, and he recommends some simple solutions to reduce exhaustion.

Videoconferencing is by no means a new technology. The dream of two-way audio-video communication goes back over a century. For the past decade particular innovations, such as Apple FaceTime and Skype, have swiftly turned a science fiction vision into the daily norm for many.

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020 and people shifted to living their lives from home, videoconferencing quickly became a primary mode of communication, for everything from seeing your doctor to taking a college class. Suddenly, hundreds of millions of people were spending most of their day sitting in front of a screen, watching an array of faces staring back at them, and the term “Zoom fatigue” soon emerged.

People were reporting a unique kind of exhaustion at the end of whole days of videoconferencing, which seemed counter-intuitive. After all, we could spend our entire day in the comfort of our own home instead of trekking around town from meeting to meeting. Why were we seemingly more exhausted after six or eight hours of videoconferencing compared to a regular long day of in-person interactions?

Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, was not surprised. He had spent more than two decades studying the ways virtual communication affects individuals, and he quickly penned an editorial suggesting the unique fatigue that accompanies a day of videoconferencing could be due to a kind of non-verbal-cue overload that occurs when one substitutes virtual platforms for in-person interactions.

Now, Bailenson has comprehensively articulated his ideas in a new peer-reviewed perspective, published in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior. The research suggests four key reasons why video conferencing can be so unusually exhausting and offers several solutions to help make your day of “zooming” less tiring.

While obviously the kind of exhaustion Bailenson is referring to is not unique to Zoom specifically, he suggests the ubiquity of the software has led to “zoom” being commonly used as a synonym for videoconferencing, in much the same way “googling” is a general catch-all for using an internet search engine.

“I don’t do this to vilify the company – I am a frequent Zoom user, and I am thankful for the product which has helped my research group stay productive and allowed friends and family to stay connected,” explains Bailenson in the new study. “But given it has become the default platform for many in academia, and readers of this article are likely familiar with its affordances, it makes sense to focus on Zoom, which jumped from about 10 million users in December, 2019, to more than 300 million users 5 months later.”

Everyone is staring at you … all the time

Look at me, and me, and me ....
Look at me, and me, and me ….

The first cause for Zoom Fatigue suggested by Bailenson is the state of stressed hyper-arousal generated by excessive stretches of close-up eye contact. Unlike an in-person meeting, where participants will shift from looking at a speaker to other activities, such as note taking, on Zoom everyone is always staring at everyone.

The anxiety generated by a number of faces staring at you can be likened to the stresses of public speaking but amplified to a degree regardless of who is talking. Bailenson explains, from a perceptual standpoint, Zoom turns every participant on a call into a constant speaker smothered with eye gaze.

Another factor at play compounding the stress of constant eye gaze can be the size of faces on your monitor. Landmark research from cultural anthropologist Edward Hall in the 1960s suggested interpersonal distance fundamentally influences emotion and behavior.

Summarizing Hall’s work for the digital age, Bailenson says a person’s intimate space spans a radius of about 60 cm (23 in). Interactions inside this space are generally reserved for family or intimate friends, but depending on your monitor size and Zoom settings, large faces of strangers can often be presented in close proximity.

“In general, for most setups, if it’s a one-on-one conversation when you’re with coworkers or even strangers on video, you’re seeing their face at a size which simulates a personal space that you normally experience when you’re with somebody intimately,” say Bailenson.

The short-term solutions to mitigate these issues are to reduce the size of your videoconferencing window, and try to move away from your computer monitor. The goal, Bailenson notes, is to increase the personal space between yourself and other Zoom participant’s faces.

The distraction of video

Looking and listening can be draining
Looking and listening can be draining

An influential 1999 study from Stanford University’s Pamela Hinds looked at the differences in cognitive processing between audio communication and audio-visual communication. Hinds paired up volunteers and presented them with two tasks designed to measure cognitive load; a guessing game task, and a subsequent recognition task.

The study revealed those subjects performing the tasks by audio only performed better on the secondary recognition task compared to those subjects completing the same tasks by videoconferencing.

The discrepancy was hypothesized to be a result of the increased cognitive load generated by video communication. The additional mental resources needed to interpret video cues means it takes more cognitive work to communicate.

Bailenson says the constant barrage of complex non-verbal cues, both being sent and received, during a Zoom interaction can be a major influence on the novel sense of fatigue generated by the technology. He suggests long Zoom meetings should require audio-only breaks, to help relieve the cognitive load of video interactions.

“This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen,” explains Bailenson, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”

You’re so good looking …

“Imagine in the physical workplace, for the entirety of an 8-hr workday, an assistant followed you around with a handheld mirror, and for every single task you did and every conversation you had, they made sure you could see your own face in that mirror,” Bailenson writes.

Perhaps the strangest part of modern videoconferencing is one’s reflection constantly staring back from the screen. For decades researchers have investigated the effect seeing oneself in a mirror has on prosocial behavior and self-evaluation.

In general this body of work suggests there may be a small negative affect generated by intensive mirror image viewing, and this is potentially underpinned by the way a reflection of oneself amplifies critical self-evaluation. But Bailenson points out this particular factor is perhaps the most profoundly understudied aspect of videoconferencing as most prior mirror-image research has only focused on the influence of seeing oneself for short periods of time.

“There is no data on the effects of viewing oneself for many hours per day,” he writes. “Given past work, it is likely that a constant mirror on Zoom causes self-evaluation and negative affect.”

So what’s the solution? The answer is as simple as hiding the view of yourself during a Zoom call. Bailenson also recommends the platforms should not make the view of oneself a default option during video calls. Once you have sorted yourself in your frame, close your self-view window.

A highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue

Twenty-five years ago author David Foster Wallace’s epic novel Infinite Jest presented a stark picture of a future world. Among the novel’s many prescient observations, Wallace imagined a world where videophones were only popular for about a year.

Wallace suggested people would quickly revert back to audio-only communication once the novelty of video-calls had worn off. He figured one of the strengths of audio-only communication was how it enabled people to enter a fugue-like state where they wandered around doing other minor tasks while talking.

“A traditional aural-only conversation […] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet – and this was the retrospectively marvelous part – even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided,” Wallace imagined back in 1996.

Bailenson points out a growing body of research is finding movement can improve cognitive performance. One recent study, for example, found walking on a treadmill can enhance creative divergent thinking compared to sitting.

Not so long ago, meetings didn't require you to stay in shot
Not so long ago, meetings didn’t require you to stay in shot

Even in conventional face-to-face meetings people tend to move about the room, stand while presenting information, or pace around while thinking of new ideas. Zoom meetings, of course, can remove all of these locomotive factors and in some cases this can lead to less efficient meeting outcomes.

Here Bailenson suggests the medium a meeting is conducted in should be closely considered. Does every meeting need to be via Zoom? Is there a benefit to certain interactions moving back to audio-only platforms?

For meetings that need to take place on Zoom, Bailenson recommends creating more distance between oneself and the camera. This can be achieved through the use of an external camera, separate from a computer, generating personal distance that allows for one to move about a room.

We’re through the looking glass

Zoom, and other videoconferencing technologies, have inarguably been incredible tools to help us all weather this global pandemic. It is difficult to even imagine how different things would have been if this pandemic occurred just 15 years ago.

And it is unlikely things will ever fully bounce back to how they were before the pandemic. Virtual meetings are now deeply woven into our social fabric. Videoconferencing in the past was a utilitarian choice, to be used in cases where there was no way to meet in person. But now, moving forward, these virtual behaviors have become so ingrained, so normalized, that Zoom meetings are set to become a permanent part of our lives.

Bailenson is frank in pointing out many of his conclusions in this new study are entirely hypothetical. But that is part of the point he is trying to make. Over the last year hundreds of millions of people have, on a massive scale, embraced a profoundly new form of communication. And we need to do the research to understand what potential negative effects there may be, and how we can be optimizing our use of this technology.

“While [these arguments] are based on previous research findings, almost none of them have been directly tested,” Bailenson concludes. “It is my hope that others will see many research opportunities here, and will run studies that test these ideas.”

The new study was published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior.

Source: Stanford University

Source: https://newatlas.com/telecommunications/zoom-fatigue-video-exhaustion-tips-help-stanford/

NEWATLAS

Street-based radar system designed to save pedestrian lives

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Many cars are now equipped with pedestrian-detecting radar systems, but those systems can still be blocked by obstacles such as buildings or other vehicles. A new setup is intended to get around that problem, by taking the radar to the streets.

The system is currently being developed as part of the HORIS project, by three separate branches of Germany’s Fraunhofer research group. It incorporates infrastructure-connected MIMO radar sensors, which could be installed at pedestrian-heavy locations such as bus stops, school zones or crosswalks.

Continuously scanning the area 100 times per second, each sensor unit is capable of first identifying an object as being a person, and then ascertaining the speed and direction in which they’re walking or running … if they’re moving at all, that is. Should the system determine that the person is heading toward the road at too fast of a speed – so that they’re about to step out in front of oncoming traffic – it emits a warning signal.

Such a wireless signal would be picked up by the vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) system in cars close by, causing an audio/visual alarm to sound/appear in any vehicles that might be about to hit the pedestrian. The system could perhaps even automatically activate those cars’ brakes.

One of the MIMO radar sensors utilized in the system
One of the MIMO radar sensors utilized in the system

A. Shoykhetbrod/Fraunhofer FHR

Additionally, even if no one were about to step onto the road, the system could still warn drivers to slow down if they were approaching an area where numerous people were milling about on the sidewalk. And because no cameras are involved, there shouldn’t be any privacy concerns.

Although the technology is still in development, it is already being demonstrated at a bus stop on the campus of the Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt university. There, a setup incorporating two radar sensors is able to monitor up to eight people at once, determining if any of them are moving toward the road.

Source: Fraunhofer

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Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/street-radar-pedestrian-warning/

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NEWATLAS

Tree-fungus supplement could reduce fertilizer use in tomato crops

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Although Ceriporia lacerata fungus causes tree wood to rot, it also has a good side. According to a new study, adding the fungus to agricultural soil allows tomatoes to be grown using much less fertilizer.

Partially because they have such a long growth period, tomato plants require more nutrients than many other crops. As a result, farmers typically apply large quantities of chemical fertilizer to their fields.

Not only is this time-consuming and expensive, but it also reduces populations of beneficial microbes in the soil, plus it causes pollution as excess fertilizer runs out of the soil and into waterways. Additionally, even though chemical fertilizers may indeed boost tomato yields, they often reduce fruit quality.

Led by Jianguo Huang, scientists at China’s Southwest University instead looked to a specific strain of the Ceriporia fungus which is harmless to tomatoes.

Ordinarily, when growing on trees and when present in the soil, it emits enzymes such as proteases and phosphatases to obtain nutrients from the immediate environment. In the course of doing so, it frees up nutrients – including those previously delivered in fertilizer – which would otherwise have remained “locked up” within naturally occurring compounds in the soil. Those nutrients can then be taken up by plants.

In field tests, it was found that when the HG2011 strain of Ceriporia lacerata was added to both fertilized and unfertilized soil, it improved the nutrient uptake and thus the yield of tomato plants growing in that soil. Importantly, the fungus also enhanced the nutritional value and flavor of the fruit by increasing its sugar-to-acid ratio along with its soluble sugar and vitamin C content.

It is now hoped that compost incorporating the fungus could be used in an inexpensive supplement, which would reduce the need for traditional fertilizers.

A paper on the research was published this week in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Source: American Chemical Society via EurekAlert

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Source: https://newatlas.com/science/tree-fungus-less-fertilizer-tomatoes/

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Spongey filter releases purified lake water when set in the sun

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Ironically, many of the places that most require water purification have the least-developed infrastructure. That’s where a new filtration device comes in, as it’s activated by the sun – and it’s said to perform better than other solar-powered purification systems.

One of the most common ways of using the sun to purify water involves setting up what’s known as a solar still. Although there are several different types of solar still, they’re all based around the concept of collecting pure condensed water vapor that evaporates out of tainted liquid water as it’s heated by the sun.

While such setups are effective, they can sometimes take a long time to produce a decent amount of drinkable water. Seeking a faster-acting alternative, scientists at Princeton University have developed an inexpensive flat sponge-like device that draws in water from a lake or pond, then releases purified water when subsequently set in the sunlight.

At the heart of the filter is a polymer gel with a mesh-like microstructure. That gel is surrounded by a layer of a dark-colored material called polydopamine, which is in turn covered with a clear layer of an algae-derived substance known as alginate.

When the device is left to float in relatively cool water, the gel’s mesh remains loose and open. Water flows in through pores in the two outer layers, drawn to hydrophilic (water-attracting) molecules within the gel. The alginate’s pores are small enough, however, that they don’t allow pollutants or pathogens to pass through.

When the filter is subsequently removed from the water and placed in the sunlight, the dark polydopamine boosts its solar gain, causing it to heat up. As it does so, hydrophobic (water-repelling) molecules in the gel are drawn toward one another. This causes the gel to contract, essentially wringing the purified water out of the spongey material. That water is collected in a container placed below the filter.

In a test of the device, it was initially placed in the 25 ºC (77 ºF) water of the Princeton campus’ Lake Carnegie for an hour. It was then taken out and set in the sunlight for another hour, over the course of which it heated to 33 ºC (91 ºF) and released the water that it had soaked up. That water proved to be free of toxins and pathogens, including potentially harmful microbes that are found in the lake.

A paper on the study, which is being led by Prof. Rodney Priestly and postdoctoral research fellow Xiaohui Xu, was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Source: Princeton University via EurekAlert

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Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/water-purification-filter-sun/

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The newest Casio G-Shock smartwatch is the first to run Wear OS

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Google’s Wear OS platform could certainly use some more actual smartwatches to run on, and Casio has obliged with the GSW-H1000 – the first G-Shock smartwatch from the brand to come with Wear OS on board.

The watch has all the ruggedness you would expect from a Casio G-Shock timepiece: it’s shock-resistant and water-resistant down to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet).

It’ll handle more extreme pursuits like snowboarding and surfing as well as the usual running, cycling and indoor activity tracking. The titanium carbide finish on the back of the smartwatch is designed to resist scratches and damage, but the wearable is also designed to be comfortable, with a soft urethane strap intended to be both flexible and durable.

This is a smartwatch packed with sensors, too. Of course it can track your location via GPS, and how many steps you’re taking per day, but it also packs in a heart rate sensor, a compass, and an altitude and air pressure sensor. A total of 15 activities and 24 indoor workout options are covered in total.

There’s a neat trick with the display, as well – it’s a dual-layer affair that can switch between monochrome and color, so you can save battery life when you need to. Depending on how you use the screens and the sensors, battery life can reportedly be anywhere between one-and-a-half days and a month.

The display also features a customizable three-tier layout, so you can pick which bits of information you want to see at a glance – from heart rate to lap times. That’s on top of all the customizations Wear OS gives you, too.

The smartwatch tracks location, steps, heart rate and much more
The smartwatch tracks location, steps, heart rate and much more

Casio

This being a device running Google software, Google Assistant integration is baked right in, and you can use it to see notifications and to control media on your connected smartphone (both Android and iOS are supported by Wear OS, though the integration with Android and its apps is much tighter).

The Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000 is scheduled to go on sale in mid-May with a retail price of around US$700 – your color options are black with gray highlights, black with blue highlights, and black with red highlights and a red strap. While there are some decent Wear OS smartwatches out there, another one is very welcome.

Product page: Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000

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Source: https://newatlas.com/smartwatches/casio-g-shock-smartwatch-wear-os/

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