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Zoom + Botox = ?

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

Today, there is an article about how Zoom (or whatever platform you're using--and for your sake, we hope it isn't Microsoft Teams) is bad for your health. Here's the part of their explanation that caught our attention:

"This is foremost because human beings are exquisitely sensitive to one another’s facial expressions. Authentic expressions of emotion are an intricate array of minute muscle contractions, particularly around the eyes and mouth, often subconsciously perceived, and essential to our understanding of one another. But those telling twitches all but disappear on pixelated video or, worse, are frozen, smoothed over or delayed to preserve bandwidth."

You know who is probably unaffected by this? People who spent the Before Times hanging out with the Botox People.

The Botox People were already frozen or smoothed over. And the people who spent time with them had already grown accustomed to a world of frozen, smoothed over faces and the attendant lack of cues they faced in conversation with the Botox People. Those people (the friends, not the faces), probably fall into one of two categories:

  1. People who were constantly anxious after their social interactions and didn't know why

  2. People who became accustomed to interacting with blank slates

Either way, those people were ready for this new world of digitally-driven, frozen, smoothed over faces.

But we want to dig into this a little bit more. Because there is research (did you think that there wouldn't be research?), and we've long been fascinated by it (did you think that we hadn't read that research?).

A study from nearly a decade ago--before Botox became practically ubiquitous, long before Ocean's 8 became a cultural study in frozen faces--examined the impacts of face freezing on empathy. Here's the gist: You can't read them, and they can't read you.

"It’s no shock that we can’t tell what the Botoxed are feeling. But it turns out that people with frozen faces have little idea what we’re feeling, either."

It looks like every few years, there are new studies on frozen faces and empathy: 2011, 2013, 2016, 2019. Here's a key detail from a 2016 study:

"The finding confirms the assumption that, to some extent at least, 'embodied' processes help us understand emotions. It also suggests that the negative influence of Botox may be manifest precisely in those situations in which this help could prove most useful. For instance, think of a normal conversation between two individuals, where mutual understanding is vital to ensure proper social interaction: failure to pick up on emotional nuances or sudden changes in the other person's mood can make the difference between successful communication and communication breakdown.

Turns out the authors of that Zoom article are spot on: it is entirely dislocating when faces freeze. The research bears it out. Our questions:

  1. What is the mathematical answer to Zoom + Botox = ? Is it a doubling factor? Or does one negate the other?

  2. What happens in a world where no one can pick up on emotional nuances? Are we witnessing the acceleration of the death of empathy?

To that second one, we offer a resounding NO.

Sure, there is clearly a lack of empathy and there are some almost-cartoonish and definitely Botoxed people leading the way by enacting policies that codify cruelty and disdain. But that's not the majority of people any more than the Botoxed People themselves are the majority of people.

As with so many things these days, those of us who are working hard, caring for our families, stressing about our work and income, making meals and doing dishes and walking dogs and checking in on our neighbors are the vast majority. And because we are BUSY DOING THE THINGS, it is hard for us to make as much noise in the world as the people who are hollering about haircuts or saying that everyone is opposed to vaccines and Medicaid Expansion. Sure, those people are more visible. But those people are not MORE PEOPLE.

We are the majority.

And we believe that it is our job here at WWAN to help amplify your voice. Because your voice is our voice.

And empathy still exists.


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