The Gargoyle on My Screen

Everyone looks awful on video conference calls. Can that change?

Story by Heather Schwedel, Slate

I’ve just clicked on the link for Zoom, the video conferencing service, for Slate’s weekly editorial meeting, and now a gargoyle is staring back at me from my laptop screen. But I can’t look away from the gargoyle because she is me, only my skin is a dull shade of greige (you know, gray-beige), there’s an inexplicable spotlight on my nose, my head is casting a weird shadow onto my neck, and I swear one of my eyes is wonky. Is that what I look like?

It’s like this every single time. I so hate video conferencing that in one of my weekly meetings, I’ve taken to sitting against the wall instead of at the central table, so that I’m just out of the range of the camera at the front of the room. But ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away. In fact, the very opposite is true: Video conferences and calls are only growing more prevalent. In a survey from Nexmo released earlier this year, millennials self-reported a 175 percent increase in their usage of live video over the past few years, and, according to a different survey, companies, too, are seeing their video call numbers steadily ticking up. It’s even started to infiltrate workplaces you wouldn’t expect to be able to make use of such software—the New York Times recently wrote about a choreographer who Skypes into dance rehearsals. But it’s also not just professional obligations that demand video calls: They’re also starting to be used in all sorts of extracurricular ways—you might attend an Astrology 101 livestream, or give dating via video call a whirl.

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