In the top right of your screen lives little you. He, she or however you choose to define yourself, has been hanging around a lot lately. Quarantine has sent us into a zoom-ing, houseparty-ing, facetime-ing frenzy, which means we’ve spent a lot of time talking to other people whilst pretending not to stare at this miniature version of ourselves that’s played back to us.
It’s not necessarily that we’re having dull conversations (though I’ll admit that getting a takeaway pear sorbet is perhaps the most exciting thing that I’ve done this month, so the conversational soil isn’t exactly rich) it’s simply that human vanity doesn’t respond well to a constant projection of our own face. We might not quite have the balls in real life to ignore our dinner date and stare longingly into our own eyes reflected off the back of a spoon, but on a phone, when little you is located just a centimeter away from the lens, (i.e the place you’re supposed to be looking), it’s damn hard to ignore.
If you could screenshot a thousand conversations around the world each day, you’d see one of two things. Either the coquettish, head-turned-twenty-degrees pose, for those who aren’t afraid to hide it, or the more Blair-Witch-Project-esque nervy eye dart, as if something slightly off-center might be about to eat them at any moment.
When I should be thoughtfully and attentively listening to a dear friend, I’m more akin to a budget Hollywood director, wondering whether I should hold the phone back slightly to ensure my nose doesn’t look so big in the frame, or whether I can surreptitiously dim the lights a tad more to take the glare off my worryingly glossy forehead.
Worse is to come when the person I’m talking to says anything remotely important. Immediately I go from director to actor and start watching my face make what for years I’ve thought was ‘sad face’ or ‘concerned face’ or ‘understanding face’ and which are all in fact terrifying versions of my regular ‘fairly ugly face.’ As my focus drifts entirely onto how I should be looking, I then have to start manufacturing exaggerated expressions, so my poor conversational partner is subjected to an emoji-driven horror show of enormous smiles and clown frowns.
The coup de grace occurs when your attention has been so comprehensively taken up by this effort, that you have missed the segue from humorous work-related anecdote to sobering family grief and you stick with the Ronald McDonald grin until the words ‘so we decided it was best to say goodbye’ suddenly come rocketing into your brain and you desperately try to switch seamlessly into an expression of solemn respect.
Clearly, it’s no use fighting it.
That’s great news for your wardrobe because surely this is the time to embrace the fact that we are all as close as we are ever going to get to feeling like we’re ‘on screen’ for several hours a day. Put the tracksuit and that yogurt-stained t-shirt away and treat a video call like the performance it really is. Go black tie, crack out the favorite dress, fix the hair. We know there’s a little Ron Burgundy in all of us, this is the time to let it out!