The New York Times recently ran an article about how group video calls are frying peoples’ brains. Author Kate Murphy wrote, “The way the video images are digitally encoded and decoded, altered and adjusted, patched and synthesized introduces all kinds of artifacts: blocking, freezing, blurring, jerkiness and out-of-sync audio. These disruptions, some below our conscious awareness, confound perception and scramble subtle social cues. Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder.”
I felt seen. Video calls are already annoying enough one-on-one, with the lag obliterating any sense of figuring how who should talk when. It’s like that Key and Peele sketch to the power of 15. Three people try to talk at the same time, and after a couple “no, go aheads”, the person starts telling a story… only to freeze three seconds in and emerge back in with the punchline. It feels as productive as sitting down for brunch in the middle of a busy dance floor at a loud nightclub.
I’m an extrovert. I need my social interaction. I’m overdosing on alone time—a healthy amount is great, but there’s a point where I get real tired of just sitting with my thoughts. But hopping on a mass group video call doesn’t quench that thirst. It bums me out more, because as soon as that second person says they gotta go (it’s always when that second person bounces—that’s the cue to wrap things up), I’m just left missing the hell out of an actual hangout. It feels like going to a barbecue and only having cauliflower wings and quinoa burgers.
I have a friend that has been a big meat eater his whole life. The only vegetables he ate regularly were in ketchup and french fries. He couldn’t even pronounce “quinoa”.
One day, he randomly watched a grisly YouTube video about factory farms. The algorithm recommended another video, and he kept watching, and before he knew it, two hours passed. He fell in a rabbit hole about the horrors of the meat industry, and he couldn’t look away.
So he went vegan.
The online radicalization worked, like a version of ISIS that issued a fatwa against Tyson and Cargill. On his way to our group’s barbecue the next week, my friend skipped past the burger aisle to find the little corner with Beyond and Impossible Patties.
He realized quickly enough that instead of always trying to recreate non-vegan foods, he was much better off shifting his palette. He learned how to prepare, cook, and genuinely enjoy a whole new assortment of vegetables and legumes. He started craving broccoli and zucchini, and he’s found that there’s plenty of umami, savory, juicy texture in sautéed mushrooms. Sure, he still enjoys the occasional Beyond Burger or soyrizo, but overall, he’s decided to replace instead of recreate.
That’s where I’m at with social distancing. If I can’t get the real thing, I don’t want to be bummed out by the imitation version. I’ll do the occasional Zoom group conversation, and by occasional, I don’t mean “every so often”—I mean for specific occasions. Birthdays. The Passover Seder. But not on a regular, weekly basis, as if it were a happy hour.
Instead of trying to live an Impossible Burger Extrovert lifestyle, I’m trying to shift my palette toward an actual, honest-to-goodness introverted existence. I’m reading. I’m going on long walks with hour-long soundcloud mixes queued up. I’m watching “essential must-watch” critically acclaimed shows and movies. And I’ll have one-on-one phone calls interspersed throughout the week, going deep rather than broad when it comes to maintaining my friendships.
I can’t say that I love this lifestyle. I’m not all the way there as a bona fide Introvert—I still pick up the phone in a heartbeat, I still spend way too much time reminiscing every time instagram or snapchat shows me a flashback, and I haven’t yet posted a bunch of memes on how much I love passing out in bed instead of going out to the bars. But slowly, I’m starting to look forward to my little routines and rituals. For now, I’ll make due. I’ll adapt. I have to.
I asked my friend if he misses eating meat and he said absolutely not—the visceral disgust and moral opposition to animal products makes him feel like he can’t eat meat. It just doesn’t exist to him anymore as a real possibility, as if he were to pick real meat up and physically put it in his mouth, he’d automatically get a terrible allergic reaction. I asked him if he ever misses the taste of meat, and he told me occasionally, but it’s not an urge that fake meat can’t satisfy. As sophisticated as fake meat is becoming, it doesn’t drive him to feel the need to have it in his day-to-day diet. He eats it, he enjoys it, and he moves on with his new reality.
Waiting for the vaccine—when we know that everything will go back to real normal, “concerts and sports games and air travel” normal—is like waiting for Impossible Food and Beyond to make something that tastes better and costs less than actual meat.
Until that day comes, I’ll eat my vegetables of long phone calls, longer hikes, and the longest time away from my friends since college summers. Hopefully I’ll learn to like it.