Bonnie Dwyer on COVID and Adventism — Adventist Voices

Spectrum Editor Bonnie Dwyer discusses how the current pandemic has affected Adventism. From tithe to Sabbath School, she reflects on the changes to how the church gathers at various levels and sees hope in the emerging opportunities for creativity.

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Alexander Carpenter is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

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Thank you Bonnie for this report on the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the SDA church. I listened carefully to your enthusiastic endorsement for the Zoom technology that so many are embracing Our churches have been quick to take it up as a substitute for meetings services and church gatherings. I believe that any good resource we have to careful of the ways that we use it.There are many reasons to be wary of the technology, beyond the widely reported [security and privacy concerns] have-their-own-video-conferencing-drawbacks/). Psychologists, computer scientists and neuroscientists say the distortions and delays inherent in video communication can end up making you feel isolated, anxious and disconnected (or more than you were already). Sometimes we might be better off just talking on the phone or listening on the radio.

The problem is that 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, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, bored and tired without quite knowing why.

To be sure, zooming and video calls are great for letting toddlers blow kisses to their grandparents, showing people what you’re cooking for dinner or maybe demonstrating how to make a face mask . I agree that zooming is better than nothing, but there is no substitute for being present. Zooming is Ok in an emergency such as it exists now, but if you want to really communicate with someone in a meaningful way, zooming can be vexing.

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.

Not only does this mess with our perception, but it also plays havoc with our ability to mirror. Without realizing it, all of us engage in some facial mimicry whenever we encounter another person. It’s a constant, almost synchronous, interplay. To recognize emotion, we have to actually embody it, which makes mirroring essential to empathy and connection. When we can’t do it seamlessly, as happens during a video chat, we feel unsettled because it’s hard to read people’s reactions and, thus, predict what they will do.Video chats have also been shown to inhibit [trust] because we can’t look one another in the eye. Depending on the camera angle, people may appear to be looking up or down or to the side. Viewers may then perceive them as uninterested, shifty, haughty, servile or guilty
This makes sense given that experts say no facial cues are better than faulty ones. The absence of visual input might even heighten people’s sensitivity to what’s being said.

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