August 2020 Zoom Anxiety

August 2020

Zoom anxiety – it exists! And for everyone who loves a video chat, there are others who hate them.

‘What’s wrong with the phone?’ a friend insists. ‘Why do we have to see each other?’

To the technical wizards, video-calling is a breeze. Yet there is always at least one member of the group who can’t switch on the sound or who drops a clanger when unmuted. A view of double chins and knees and the tops of heads is not uncommon and I’ll never forget the rear view of a huge pair of trousers obscuring the screen during a question and answer session with a famous author! It has been interesting to see the various backgrounds callers have chosen and I admit to being obsessed with good, but not stark, lighting. I don’t slap on the make-up, but I do brush my hair and wear a pleasing neckline. Interestingly, people admit to looking at themselves during the call as much as they look at their friends.

But for the anxious amongst us, not appearing to be a total dunce with technology and managing our own window during a conversation can be stressful. Do we appear relaxed in an armchair, or attentive as we sit at a table, arms folded? Is the smile necessary for the whole call and what happens when the group all begin to talk at once? Embarrassingly, in this scenario, everyone tends to stop speaking out of politeness, which can create an awkward silence.

When a book club from Essex contacted me to ask about a Zoom meeting (they had read Walking Apart and were keen for a discussion with the author) I was delighted to join them to answer their questions. I love my sessions at local libraries, both here in France and in Lancashire, but none of this has been possible recently. The call from Essex did not replace the vibrancy of meeting readers face-to-face, but it made me realise I could make contact from anywhere in the world and talk about the two things I love – reading and writing.

My reading group is currently on our fifth book of the summer and Zoom has been the tool that has enabled us to get-together regularly. It isn’t perfect and I look forward to meeting them all again in person. As a group, our anxieties about the technology and our image on the screen are far less important than the chance to meet up and to share our thoughts. We laugh a lot. You can have a good giggle during a telephone call, but to see humour in the faces of friends, even if those images are screen-encased, is wonderful.

If your book club would like an informal session, either before or after you have read one of my novels, please get in touch. It doesn’t matter where you are, I am sure we can arrange a time to suit. Bring your tea and biscuits or a glass of wine and some nibbles – in fact, bring along whatever makes you feel comfortable in front of the camera! There are discussion questions on the website to get the conversation going, and no one should feel that it is any more stressful than an evening down at the local pub or in someone’s lounge.

Reading can be a very satisfying, solitary activity. Yet as I close the final page of a good book, the first thing I want to do is share my thoughts with my reading friends. It keeps the tale alive for a while longer, enhances the pleasure of reading and most of all, shares that pleasure. I listen to many conversations that are fearful or sad, or angry in the current climate, so it’s a relief to take time away from reality to talk about books.