9 thoughts on “Zoom versus In-Person”

  1. Great contrast. I think there are subtly two different systems in play here, even though they look the same. A movie character is more like a book character or one in a play or even a painting. The core character is something we build ourselves, drawing from other works of art plus our own experience. CS Lewis said that “Everything is a real something. It might be a real hallucination.” So those characters have an independent reality that is inside US. If a different actor plays them, if someone puts them in a different painting, there is a great deal that is the same in our minds anyway.

    But with Zoom people, we know that they are very real on their own, so even if the sound and film are terrible, we don’t modify them in our minds too much – we don’t take control of them as we do the art characters. They become, in an odd way, LESS real to our imaginations, even as they are more real to our intellects.

    The whole Uncanny Valley phenomenon of sexy robots or plausible landscapes is going to loom larger and larger in out confusions. We are increasingly going to ask our brains to make distinctions that they are not quite up to.

  2. Gary McVery, at Ricochet, responded to my question about differences between people on Zoom and actors in films:

    “My guess: films and familiar TV shows seem to slot into the parts of our brains that process dreams. In that respect, “Hollywood, the dream factory” is kind of literal. The real-life lady on Zoom is ephemeral; she’s in and out of your life. Whereas memorable roles linger.

    Bob Gale, co-creator of Back to the Future, was on the board of our American Cinema Foundation. When my kids were small, I pointed out Bob’s fake “office” inside the Back to the Future ride at Universal. At the time I think they were five and seven years old. They already knew that the stuff you see on TV and in the movies was made-up entertainment. But for some reason they both strenuously objected to the idea that included BTTF, because “Marty McFly is a real person”.

    But it’s not like I don’t know that feeling. Tom Selleck was also on the ACF board, we talked about politics…but there was still part of allegedly sophisticated, professional me that reacted like “Wow, I just met with Thomas Magnum“.”

  3. When I first heard about this study, I was thinking it was 1,267,533rd example of a conclusion so trivial, I’d be embarrassed to publish it. After reading the synopsis, there is probably a little more there.

    My first speculation was that it is a matter of band width. The difference between a phone conversation, a video conference and in person with increasing band width in that order. My limited experience with Zoom is that I must listen very closely, and even then have to either ask for a repeat or reconstruct from ongoing context. This may have more to do with having spent a lot of hours around very loud machinery than limits to the platform. The sum is that I probably spend more conscious effort than on in person interactions.

    There’s no information on how well the conversants were acquainted. Again, over any medium, there are going to be differences between strangers, acquaintances, long time friends and intimates. Then, what is the setting? Is it a formal presentation, an informal bull session or video phone sex. In this study, I’d bet random students earning $X an hour possibly following a script, possibly laying in an MRI. That couldn’t possibly skew the results.

    Finally, humans have been having face to face encounters for a very long time, more than enough for actual Evolution to have molded our brains. Especially considering that a goodly proportion to those encounters were less than friendly, often far less. None of this apparatus is going to be engaged by a screen so this study’s result should not be surprising. I’d even speculate that any interaction significantly beyond arms reach is not going to fully rev up the engine.

    Successful performers, I’ll speculate, have gone through a brutal selection process that rewards those that somehow can overcome the handicap of remoteness whether on a screen or stage and stimulate at least some of the engagement that they would sitting across a table.

  4. re the difference between Zoom calls and movies, one difference is that movies have *screenwriters*…also, as MCS noted, actors who have learned to come across well on screen.

    I also wonder about the implications for on-line dating.

  5. I can believe it. In a similar vein, I can follow a Spanish conversation much better in person than a Spanish conversation in video or only audio. There are nonverbal cues more easily picked up in person.

  6. The non verbal clues go both ways. A speaker can more easily pick up in person that he is not being understood as well and either rephrase or simply slow down. This is exactly the drawback of lecture settings which predominate in education. Certainly something at which teachers vary widely in is the ability to tell if they’re getting anything across. Now imagine that teacher has a weak grasp of English, or especially in public schools a weak grasp of the subject itself.

    It’s hard to believe that tele-teaching is anything but a flawed alternative. This is, of course, the argument for ever smaller class sizes, yet they never seem to result in more one on one time between the teacher and individual students.

    I remember reading about children in Australia attending school by two-way radio and snail mail between the widely scattered cattle stations. The parents were also seriously involved, something that always makes a big difference.

  7. Noah Smith @Noahpinion links a picture of a big cat, with the question “f evolutionary psychology is real, why do I have the overwhelming urge to hug this animal?”

    To which Paul Graham @paulg responds: “Because you’re looking at it in a photograph instead of real life. When you see big cats in the wild they’re viscerally frightening.”

    Seems relevant to the zoom-vs-in-person discussion. When we interact w/people via business zoom or in in-person business meetings, we’re not likely to encounter too many that are ‘viscerally frightening’, but there may be other attributes picked up one way but not the other

    And for dating sites, I strongly suspect that there are people who come across as pretty ‘meh’ on the screen, but generate a strong attraction in person.

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