Family Zoom calls: you may not like extroverts, but you need us

Anyone who has been lucky to live through this, our second season of the pandemic, would say they hate Zoom. It’s not a revelation. It’s one of those annoying things, privileged, middle class adults get to whinge about, like parking spaces and the astringency of a cab sav.

And even though some companies allow you to turn off video during a Zoom chat, that sort of thing doesn’t go down well in a family Zoom.

Yes, a family Zoom. As the older sister, I organised around a dozen of them for my extended family. Every Saturday night, from early July, when lockdown became official in Sydney, until the South Sydney Rabbitohs cracked the rugby league finals last week and 60% of my family begged off, citing “personal reasons”.

My family of origin (as they’re known to my therapist) consists of two brothers, one sister and two parents. Each sibling has a spouse, so in-laws joined too, plus everyone’s kids. Altogether, we were like a tiny microcosm of Twitter in that, we’re chaotic, snippy, funny and above all, gleeful in our umbrage. “I’m offended” should be our family crest. A kangaroo can hold it, while the emu rolls her eyes.

Almost all of my family Zoom calls ended poorly. It got so bad my mother put out a request for us all to recount at least one positive thing that happened to us that week. These immediately turned into humble brags: “I’m grateful I’ve managed to lose weight during lockdown” and “I’m grateful my son is still topping the class in maths.”

Or maybe … introverts need extroverts too
Our Zoom fails weren’t helped by the fact that some participants were drunk, some were vaccine and technology hesitant and some hid in Oodies. And perhaps I’m guilty of at least one of the above, but here now, is my defence: I organised the damn thing.

So, yes, I may have, with homemade mojito in hand, and a face full of more makeup than the combined cast of Drag Race, accidentally turned it into my own late-night talkshow. Actually, it was too awkward and combative for that. I turned it into my own Q and A.

“So, I think what [name redacted] is trying to say is that the science is still developing –HANG ON! What do you, [name redacted] say to that?”

Cue: cross talk from in-laws. This was because the blood relatives had already activated their childhood coping skills, ie, shutting down completely at the merest hint of conflict.

Nobody acknowledged I was the host, by the way. Those that did resented it. Organisational psychologist and author Adam Grant, who uses the term “languishing” as a way to describe how the pandemic has made us feel, has cited research that reveals women are afraid of being perceived as too dominant and controlling on Zoom meetings, which is exactly what happened to me.

I tried to take a back seat. But the silence, the terrible pauses, the “sorry, you’ve cut out”, were excruciating. And almost everyone was quick to interpret silence as hostility. Those who didn’t fold their arms or sigh in exasperation, walked off.

I pressed on. Ignoring the clear evidence, I would group text every Saturday. “Who is up for Zoom tonight? Understand if you need to bow out for mental health reasons.”

Why didn’t I?

I could say I love my family, but love is a many-layered thing. The truth is, I’m an extrovert. The biggest extrovert in my family. I craved connection, which may be a polite way of saying I needed other people to listen to me speak.

Or maybe … introverts need extroverts too. We keep reading about how relieved introverts are now that they no longer have to deal with people. They have allegedly located their bliss in lockdown, under a blanket somewhere, with nothing but a novel and a mug of chamomile tea for company.

But, my dear introverts, you still need to interact with people, and you need someone who will keep talking when you are overwhelmed or bored. You require a loud, expressive person to fill in the silences, pivot to new subjects, smooth over disagreements.

To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives …” Well, OK, not lives, per se. But maybe situations. You introverts rely on us to fill a stale room with our chatter. You might roll your eyes, but you can’t handle the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, (because you’re introverted and you hate that) you want me on that Zoom – you need me on that Zoom.

At least, I think so. And that’s one advantage of being an extrovert – having the final word.