Video conferencing company Zoom has announced an update to their service to add avatar functionality to meetings. While acting as a lighthearted addition that might seem to target casual users more than professional workplaces, the implications of this move could be profound.
In action, avatars could become a tool to open video conferencing up and make it less stressful than it has traditionally proved to be.
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Zoom’s Avatar Update
Zoom’s avatar update will essentially act as one of the cartoon filters available on Instagram or Snapchat, or a simpler form of the virtual YouTuber avatar system. While users will require a webcam, their real presence will be translated into a digital one of their own design.
The system is expected to be limited in scope in the early days, but if it takes off, it will likely expand to add new clothes, hairstyles, and accessories.
The avatar system is designed to respond to facial movements, and map them as well as possible onto the select virtual human or animal. The intent here is not to be as accurate as possible, but to allow a degree of insight into a person’s facial cues while not being overbearing.
This is important because the strain of video conferencing systems is often underappreciated, and approaches like this can address some common concerns.
Complications in Video Conference Psychology
While video conferencing is not a new technology, it has seen a significant leap in popularity in the last few years. With so many more people working from home, video conferencing has been seen as a way to keep up with meeting culture at a distance. As meetings are often a point of complaint in work life, the extension into remote work has seen criticism.
The primary reason for opposition to video conferencing is appropriately termed Zoom fatigue. This is where the act of streaming and being seen can be exhausting, and as Stanford researchers have identified, four psychological factors contribute to this issue.
- Too much close-up eye contact is highly intense.
- Seeing yourself in video chat is fatiguing.
- Video chats prevent us from being mobile.
- Video chat requires more constant attention.
Combined, these components create a situation that is more stressful for many users than regular face-to-face meetings. There are ways around these issues, however, all of which rely on fundamentally altering the experience of a video chat.
Solutions for Video Fatigue
While not designed with video fatigue as the primary purpose, the avatar system as used by Zoom could alleviate parts one and two in Stanford’s list of stressful factors. With avatars, you won’t be looking at real eyes, so the uncomfortable part in most people’s brains will be bypassed.
You also won’t see yourself as you are, so there’s no need to be drained over concerns about your physical appearance.
Outside of meetings, other forms of video streaming have addressed the issue of chat fatigue through a different approach. In entertainment, live-streamed casinos avoid it by adopting a one-sided streaming approach.
The best live casinos online in India for 2023 like Pure Win and Mega Pari offer many live games like blackjack, roulette and Teen Patti in their line-ups. Whether on mobile or desktop, only the casino dealers themselves are streamed.
This means the players are free of fatigue as they play and text chat, avoiding all four of Stanford’s stressing factors.
This is a similar approach adopted by the streaming service Twitch, with streaming hosts and text-chatting viewers, and it could illustrate a more effective place for future evolutions in video conferencing culture.
Rather than relying on traditional meetings because they’re an assumed permanent part of business life, it could be time to look beyond former physical requirements and embrace digital possibilities.
In the real world, there are often times when seeing somebody is simply not necessary for work. When you add the stressors of video conferencing to this fact, the downsides of the system become even more pronounced.
Instead, having one or a few hosts could be a much more effective method, where a microphone and text chat could better cater to the needs of employees. In this way, Zoom’s new avatar system could be a way of testing the waters, to see how the remote working world responds to a different approach.