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The Narcissism of Video Calls

I find myself staring at my own image when I’m on video calls.  I’m mesmerized by my own reflection. I don’t have that opportunity to look at myself when I’m face-to-face with another person but now I can see exactly how my face reacts to other people and what I look like when someone else is talking and when I’m talking. Here are some thoughts running through my head as I gaze at my own visage

Is that what I look like?

Is it that obvious that I’m bored or distracted?

How come my facial expressions are so difficult to read?

How come they’re so easy to read at other points? 

Why do I look so serious?

Is anyone else distracted by watching looking at their own image?

Can I make eye contact with the camera and see what I look like at the same time?

Do I really touch my hair that much? Can I get coronavirus from touching my hair?

How do I find the best lighting and device positioning to accentuate my facial structure? 

The worst is when there’s an echo and I’m subjected to hearing my voice as well as seeing my face at the same time.

How can I make it appear that I’m looking at the person but really be doing something else? 

Is that what I look like when I'm angry? 

At various times, I’m impressed by how I look. At other times, I feel some dismay at my appearance. This could all happen within the same call and likely a reflection of my emotional state.

Why can’t I stop touching my face?

Is that what my voice sounds like? How come its so tinny?

The good part: I didn’t realize how serious my face looks much of the time. When I gaze at myself, I start feeling intimidated. On one call with an acquaintance, he pointed out that my demeanor completely changes when I smile. I had some awareness of that but it was brought to the forefront because I could tell exactly what he was talking about. Another positive aspect is you can tell if the other person can see you. I’ve had calls with my parents where neither of their faces was in the camera view and all they had to do was check their own image on the device to tell. So in some ways, having video of myself helps me understand what it’s like to be on the other side of me.

The bad part: But there appear to be many downsides as well. It’s so distracting. I’m no longer able to fully focus on other people as they’re speaking because I’m too busy watching myself. There will always be a concern about personal appearance but there are ways in which video calls exacerbate that.

Now I’m thinking about the kind of background to use. I find the most common background for pastors is a bookcase. It’s a badge of status for a pastor to be filmed in front of a bookcase full of books. I think the virtual backgrounds and when I move, the whole thing shimmers in a creepy way.

I’ve never thought this much about lighting. I was on a Zoom call with someone with the window behind them and the sun shining right into the camera. That was not enjoyable.

Apparently, I can turn off seeing my own video but I don’t want to. When in-person meetings return, maybe I'll hold up my phone to see my reflection to make sure I’m smiling enough and not touching my face. I’ve drunk too deeply of my own image to go back.  


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