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It would be fair to say that there is a bit of a height disparity between myself and my wife

It would be fair to say that there is a bit of a height disparity between myself and my wife. I am over 6 feet tall while she is just over 5 feet. One of the consequences of this was the location of the small mirror over the bathroom sink. Unless I leaned into it, it only afforded me a view of my torso.


As a consequence, I very rarely saw myself up close - on reflection (gettit?), I probably avoided such glimpses where possible. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t have a perception of what I looked like when I left the house in the morning. This image was just that - a perception - always much better than the reality. The official scientific term is ‘cognitive dissonance’.


However, when I worked in GOAL there was a mirror in the lift - something I am very much against but we were only renting the property. Some mornings I would catch a glimpse of myself and I would be immediately deflated. It would be depressing to see how tired I looked. I rarely looked like what I imagined I looked like.


Where am I going with this, I hear you ask.


Zoom. The mighty and all-conquering must-have app that allows you to look at yourself all the time; that forces you to look at yourself all the time.


Zoom has been amazing. Last week, I moderated a webinar attended by over 500 people which was available in English, French and Arabic. Zoom has helped us through this crisis and we should be very thankful for the technology.


Nevertheless, anyone will tell you that they hate themselves in photos. We recoil in horror at seeing ourselves in photos only to be told that that is actually what we look like. The same goes for hearing our own voices. The perception we have of the sound of our voices is disarmingly different to the one heard on recordings.


Zoom is the mothership of cognitive dissonance. How many times have you moved the camera back a bit, up a bit, changed the light to create the desired effect.


According to Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University, this is causing fatigue from “increased self-evaluation from staring at videos of oneself”. The Irish Times has a helpful video that provides ways to avoid online fatigue. Assistant Professor Geraldine Fauville of the University of Gothenberg says that it is wired into our brains that seeing another person’s face up close can only mean mating or conflict.


I will find the next Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party zoom very difficult.


However, Assistant Professor Fauville’s top tip for everyone is to switch off the self-view mode. You can see everyone else but not yourself. This is actually a serious issue for young people. My ‘self-evaluation’ has diminished over the decades from a peak in my adolescence. As we all know, teenagers are painfully self-conscious and image-conscious.


Professor Bailenson also advises going back to making phonecalls if it is a one to one discussion.


In the European Parliament, we have been able to do a huge amount of work online.


So far, I haven’t made any catastrophic errors on Zoom - such as forgetting to put on my trousers. The other day, my speaking slot came up quicker than I expected at a committee meeting. I didn’t have time to take off my messy hoody or to ask the children to stop playing directly outside the room I was in. Apparently, it all looked and sounded very authentic.


By way of epilogue, I may say that we have invested in a slightly larger mirror over the bathroom sink. The shock of the zoom effect has thus been diminished more than a little bit.


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