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  • Writer's pictureThe BroadVersity Team

Watching It Burn (Out): Digital Fatigue, Zoom vs VR

Does dreaded digital fatigue carry over to virtual reality settings?

We’ve all felt it over the last few years: Zoom burn out. Since the pandemic began, everyone from Business News Daily to The New York Times writes and talks about it. While VR technologies are beginning to emerge, a quick Google search shows that people aren’t talking about VR burn out. Does that even exist…yet? 

Since theatrical creatives and performers alike tend to be tactile people with tangible productions—working solidly in this physical world (so far—winkwink—), digital burn out can be more pervasive among us troubadours. With that in mind, we wanted to take a minute to break down what digital burnout entails and how to avoid transferring it from one device or system to another when leaping from Zoom to Virtual Reality/headsets. But, also, why we believe VR/AR/XR have a leg up over Zoom in giving us a better feeling—stay tuned for that.  

WHAT exactly is digital burn out? (Zoom just being one part of that) The simple answer? Fatigue or frustration coming from career centric uses of technology, but can also arise with overuse of social media, gaming, etc. It can cause lethargy, lack of motivation, and real mental exhaustion. Hello Erza has some fascinating numbers, worth a glance, about how many people experience this phenomenon, and how often.  

How many people do you know who have removed themselves from social media either partially or entirely in the last few years? Since the amount of computer time required for work has significantly increased (especially for those working from home), many are mitigating “burn out” by taking away the digital leisure they previously enjoyed.  

Stanford researchers provide a concise and more logical breakdown than most for what exactly causes the problem. So many articles chalk it up to just overuse, but they give four solid reasons that help us understand the core of the issue: everything from seeing yourself shining back at you constantly, to reduced mobility (Hint: we could all use that mental health stroll around the block). 

If you’re looking for a real-world list of ways to get around Digital/Zoom Burn Out, Forbes has a good one, but we’re here to talk about VR.  

With discussions of Mental Health continuously on the rise, we see more and more written about VR Therapy. Therapists currently use it in a variety of ways, most notably for anxiety relief and immersion in certain stimulated environments that patients are working through. The Scientific American even opened their blog on the topic by saying, “experts used to worry that virtual reality (VR) would damage our brains. These days, however, VR seems more likely to help our gray matter.” Great news for us!  

Still, some believe that once the honeymoon phase ends, VR Fatigue will set in, same as Zoom Fatigue did. They argue it remains just another tool that we’ll eventually get over. Yet, others have been quick to correctly point out that “fatigue,” if you will, can set in with anything. Even your favorite hobby can become annoying if you overdo it.  

Emerging benefits to VR over Zoom (and other digital meeting mediums) that most articles point out includes actually meeting with your team in another arena. Rather than staring at a screen or singing into a void of flat-faced moving photos, the headset gives you a 3D avatar to work or perform with.  

Okay, we hear everything people in the health and tech worlds are saying, but what about us—what about theatre people? We’ve said over a million times, we cannot sit through another out-of-sync Zoom reading, but how will this improve that?  

The immersive nature of virtual and augmented realities does the trick.  

Story time! When Apples & Oranges Arts put on Winter Lights in virtual reality for the first time, a friend (in this case, meant to be an audience member) snuck in through a virtual stage door and into the pre-show area where the cast and crew were working in the theatre. When she saw that the director was working with the cast, she simply found herself a seat in the back left corner of the theatre. She loved this spot in regular theaters when watching a rehearsal, so why should this virtual event be any different?  

This traditional theatre go-er, maker, lover found herself in that virtual back corner crying to herself. She described it as breaking down in tears—breaking down. But why? It was the first time since the shutdown that she felt like she was in a theatre, “I watched you warm up,” she told the director later, “I was in MY seat.” Instant convert. 

This embodies the feeling of why we do what we do here at BroadVersity, but also the heart of what makes VR a distinctly different experience.  

We’ve said time and time again that we are not here to replace live theatre, but to amplify it. We also do not seek to replace one burn out with another. So, what can you do specifically while working your way up to full-fledged-performance level time in VR to avoid that burn? 

First off, hybrid experiences are gold. Give yourself space to move around in our world while existing in the headset. If you have the ability to stand—do it, if not, any kind of movement will help. Burn out does not ONLY exist in digital meeting spaces like Zoom. People experience burn out in traditional meetings as well, so employ the same tactics you would use there to pump yourself up. Need a few tips? Here are some good ones to start with, but make it your own, do what works for you. (Then, maybe share those tips with us?) 

If you’re in a meeting style environment in virtual reality, with a company or cast—rehearsal even, stand up and move to the white board so that you can physically present ideas the way you would if you were all in the same space in our world.  

In the real world, it can be difficult to sit at the computer 24/7 and expect to have a clear mind. Virtual Reality mirrors that issue. Everyone adjusts differently in our world: some people do yoga, some go hiking—virtual reality should embody the same mental and physical contrast. Don’t limit yourself to Beat Saber and Star Wars. Schedule some time for yourself in a meditation app, or even just to sit in one of the quiet beach-like environments.  

How many of you have some kind of smart device that yells at you now and again to stand up or move around? When you’ve been sitting too long, it gives you a little buzz on the wrist and lets you know you must move—VR should be no different. Set a timer for yourself and, if you have the ability to, take a lap around the room, do that. If not, at least take the headset off and reset!  

Last, but certainly not least for our theatrically inclined friends—GET SOCIAL! Theatre inhabits an interactive, social environment, at least for the performers, if not beyond. When practicing longevity in the headset, or just putting on a show in general, interpersonal situations will be key. AltSpaceVR, VRChat, and Horizons are all excellent options. But don’t stick to just one! Hopping around between environments will be key to avoiding that status quo that leads to burn out.  

We’re only getting started. Pioneering a new world for theatre. Imagine yourself in the world of Something Rotten. What on EARTH is a MUSICAL?! This is that moment technologically. Let’s be at the forefront!  

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