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Half conversations on Zoom and the boy's screen addiction returns | Life and style

We can’t claim to have had lockdown as tough as so many others, but some of our lowest ebbs have been about how much we miss family. Video calls help, but only offer a few brief moments of happiness for the boy before he gets frustrated, grabs the handset, turns off the call and navigates to the Netflix app for a fix of his precious, precious Peppa Pig.

Before lockdown, we’d managed to restrict his use of phones and screens for long enough that he didn’t really think about them. Now that screens are mandated for several weekly activities this addiction has returned, and with a vengeance. It’s a cruel whim of fate that the very thing we’re telling him not to use 90% of the week, we now have to force him to enjoy in smaller doses. These never satisfy his cravings, but still whittle away at the sobriety he’d built up. Imagine if the plot of Lord of the Rings was just Frodo and Sam rousing the hopelessly ring-addicted Gollum from abstinence, forcing him into close proximity to the ring, refusing him even the small mercy of its absence, and frequently growing belligerent with him any time he reached out for it. Luckily it isn’t – it’s that plus 700 pages of singing elves.

Not that I find video calls satisfying myself. There’s something there-but-not-quite-there about them that manages to combine all the worst aspects of phone calls and real life, with few of the benefits of either. It’s miraculous what a few seconds’ worth of delay will do to destroy the ordinary currents of human conversation. I feel as if I spend 50% of each call saying: ‘Yes. Sorry. No. Please. No you go ahead’ in an infinite loop of half-started sentences that tumble out without any information being exchanged. And why is it that gaps in conversation scarcely register in the presence of a treasured friend, but during a video call with that same person silences seem to last a fortnight? Why does the laptop camera seem to have been designed by every single user’s jealous ex, so that it captures every flaw and blemish, every waxy eye and baggy chin?

Maybe this is why I spend my entire time glancing at the picture in the bottom corner, at the image of myself that the Sun would use if I was accused of killing swans in the local park. I’m not the world’s vainest creature, but happily go through my day catching glimpses of myself in well-positioned mirrors, thinking I’m passably attractive. One look at the Zoom screen, however, sets me fantasising about a time when I can visit one of those plastic surgeons that assassins use in films.

But for all my entitled bellyaching, it’s become a vital connection and a comforting vision of normality in stressful times, so I should stop complaining. At least that’s what I meant to say before. Sorry, before. Before you started talk… No, sorry. I did it again. Please. You go ahead.

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats

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