Stop Staring At Your Face On Screen! The Awkward New Rules Of Socialising

Illustrated by Kezia Gabriella
Whew, what a long few weeks of quarantine it’s been. At first there was a huge novelty (and massive sense of relief and reassurance) to be found in your entire social life moving online: impromptu Houseparty gatherings, late-night FaceTimes, two-hour boozy Zoom catch-ups with people who live three bus rides away and – let’s be honest – you never would have visited in normal life.
But now it’s quite exhausting, isn’t it? Online video calls mean you have to learn a whole new social code and worry about a new version of FOMO: FOMOO. That’s fear of missing out (online). 
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You know the feeling. You spot a cute screenshot of a group video chat on someone’s Instagram Stories, one you just know was taken at least three times to make sure everyone looked good, and you think: Why wasn’t I on that call? Or, scrolling through social media on a Sunday evening, you realise that you’ve spent two incredibly antisocial weekend nights binge-watching Tiger King while everyone else was online pub quizzing and dressing up in actual structured outside clothes especially to hang out in their own home, Love Island-style. 
Then there’s the 'looking at your own face' issue that comes with socialising via video. It’s really hard not to gaze at yourself like you’re looking in a mirror the whole time. "I can't stop staring at my own face," says Rosie, a journalist. "But it's not really because I think I look that great. I just can't stop... I think it might be an anxiety thing? I find myself mostly worrying what I look like. Or staring at (and judging) everyone's interior design."
Which brings yet another new worry to socialising this way – are people judging your house? Huge group online pub quizzes mean you can end up showing people you’ve never met – friends of friends, or just people who’d never normally come into your home – exactly what your bedroom looks like. I, personally, am almost certain I’ve permanently damaged my back because I insist on sitting a certain way on my bed to show off the nicest possible background to my video chat (shelves with books arranged by colour – I’m not claiming my décor choices are original, just aesthetically pleasing). I was furious to find out that my boyfriend had accidentally pointed the camera at the back of our fridge and the pile of bags for life in the kitchen on one chat. Not that my friends would care – I’m assuming they knew that the fridge had a back as well as a front – but it’s the actual worst view of our home. 
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Problems that existed in real life haven't disappeared either. There’s always a loud person in every group and online it’s even harder to get a word in edgeways. Let me speak! Or, at least, give me a go with the green box that lands on whoever is talking on Zoom. "The worst is when everyone starts talking at once, then everyone goes silent," says Katie, a merchandiser. "Then everyone is like, 'No, you first, you first'. It’s so awkward I want to scream." 
For a chronic interrupter like myself, the occasional internet lag means I’m forever talking over someone and then having to tell my world-class anecdote twice, and the second time isn’t funny. "I feel like I have to put my hand up to speak and it makes me feel about 5 years old," says Dani, a copywriter, adding that it makes her quieter than in real life and "there are so many awkward silences you just wouldn’t have normally."
And much like a night in the pub, when some drunk lad wanders up to your group of friends with a sleazy grin and an "Alright ladies, don’t I know you from somewhere?" we have to address the worst part of Houseparty: the weirdos who barge into your unlocked room and conversation. Even worse, the random people who you vaguely knew at uni and are now trying to strike up a conversation. Nice to speak to you…in this weird mid-pandemic online situation, I guess? I’ve heard about one person’s manager who accidentally let herself into a chat with their mates from home, and another person who was surprised by a very Z-list celeb they’d interviewed for work popping up in their 'room'. "My husband’s friend’s fiancé popped up in a room with me and I had no idea what to say – we’d never normally speak apart from a quick hello in the pub so it was…quite stilted," says Fay, an accounts manager. 
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So yes, while it’s really nice to see your friends during isolation, and it’s even better to do it while lying on your bed wearing pyjamas and no makeup, of course it’s not perfect. 
At the end of the day, it’s okay to realise nobody actually cares if you’re wearing makeup or what your bookcase looks like (if you took my friends' faces out of a Zoom call I honestly couldn’t identify anyone’s living room). And it’s okay to take a break and remember this is a time to be kind to yourself, not to spend two hours comparing your face to your friends' faces and then realising you haven’t listened to anything anyone has said. If you’re stressed out, just step away from the screen and switch it for...erm...another screen. Or a book! Books are very popular, they’re like a Netflix series but written down. Have a 'night in' on your own. Or call someone on the phone. Just relax. We need to make it through the next few months and spending every night in a chaotic six-person Houseparty shouting match is not going to help at all. 

The Dos & Don'ts

Do: Check before posting a screenshot. Yes, you look good but it’s the same rule as a photo from a night out. Just send an 'okay to post?' WhatsApp to your co-callers first, please. 
Don't: Forget and go to the loo with your laptop. We’ve all seen that viral tweet of the woman who thought she turned her camera off in the work meeting. 
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Do: Remember the person who posts eight screenshots of separate, cool-looking chats is the same person who’d post a 20-dash Insta Story of their weekend: a show-off. You don’t have to compete. 
Don't: Just start talking to someone off camera (like a flatmate or partner) with your mic on. That’s rude! That’d be rude in real life!
Do: Remember that with 'free' wine and no bar queues there’s no natural pause in drinking so you could end up s***faced after an hour’s chat. 
Don't: Get drunk and interrupt your boyfriend’s ‘pub’ quiz to force your friends to hold their pets up to the camera for your inspection. Sorry everyone. 
Do: Ask friends if it’s a good time to speak – nobody likes a surprise phone call, especially nobody likes a surprise video call. 
Don't: Burst into someone’s Houseparty room and start talking. What is wrong with you, you monster?
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