Friday 1st May The Coronet Diaries.



Yesterday, someone I see kindly sent me the NYT article quoted above, which he thought would be of interests. He knew it would provoke my thoughts. In fact I disagree with almost everything the article says. TBD.

The sender is a barrister who is preparing to conduct his future trials on Zoom. He is relatively young so likely to be more adaptive than some of the older Silks in his chambers. (Remember, Freud said by the time a man was somewhere ? around forty he was past the optimum age for psychoanalysis as he would be too rigid!) I asked JD if he would be willing to put a few of his spontaneous thoughts onto paper for me to include in the diary. Due to him having just finished a major trial we have only had a couple of Zooms since lock down. and I have a recall in complete contradiction to the NYT article (but only from my point of view) of the nostalgic element in his expression on the occasion of our second Zoom, when we were discussing the loss of our face to face work; I was recounting that several people had reported they were finding their Zoom sessions different but equally effective. He was surprised and so far has been the only person openly to say, ‘But I prefer being face to face in a physical space.’

I also take exception to the idea that Zoom/Skyping interferes with the process of mirroring the ‘patients’ emotions. Or mine being mirrored in reverse. I am continuously struck by how often I find myself changing my position to accord with the person I am speaking to. I am intending to write in a more thoughtful way on the impact of working through internet platforms on therapy when I have had more time to collect my thoughts but I cannot withhold my protest at the journalists’ suggestions that the phone is a better option. I gather the same has been mooted on a Twitter thread by a psychoanalyst. There are a few of the people who consult me who feel their lives are already over exposed to cameras so that their preference is to speak on the phone; a few others who prefer the phone because they baulk at any involvement with technology.

JD’s response the article:

The article got me thinking about a few things, some of which have been discussed in legal seminars about how to behave in video hearings. The point about eye contact is interesting – even if the person talking is looking at the person on the screen to whom they are speaking (as opposed to looking at themselves) the impression for the person listening is quite often that they are not being looked at. That is because the camera on the computer is not positioned ‘in the listener’s eyes’, so the speaker’s attention can appear to be focused elsewhere, even if it isn’t. Therefore one of things we have been told to do when doing video hearings is to try to look at the camera when speaking, in order to avoid this issue. But that itself seems very unnatural, because looking at the camera means you don’t pick up on the facial reactions of the listener so well. I also got to thinking about how we each appear in the postage stamp representation of ourselves. The default setting in Zoom (and I think others) is that this is a ‘mirror image’. (you can change this in Zoom if you want to see the difference). I think this is because we are only used to seeing ourselves in a mirror, and we would find it odd to see ourselves as others do. But of course, a mirror image is not how others see us (because the image you see in a single mirror is reversed left-to-right)  – and it is not how our image looks on the other end of the video. An interesting thought!   

I think JD must have much better eye sight than I have, although mine is not bad, because once the ‘other’s’ image appears on the screen it would never occur to me to check myself out in the miniature picture. I am credulous at the NYT’s assertion that most people are spending half the time looking at their own image and taken aback to read the assertion that some people prefer to split the screen between their own image and the other’s image. The idea of a split screen when talking to someone else feels like an extension of the narcissism culture of Instagram. Personally, when so many of the people I am Zooming are in isolation as well as lockdown, it feels to me like a sacred moment, and that is not an exaggeration, when, often still fumbling to make the audio connect, often with initial anxiety, the image of their face emanates out of the mysteries of the Web. Now, in a wish not later to repeat myself in a longer analysis, I will limit myself to a couple of other brief observations.

  1. When people request a phone call my private response is – with the caveat I would far rather spend the session with them on Zoom – Great! I can lie on my bed, I can pick my nose if I want to, (I wouldn’t out of invisible respect), I can read a text in parallel, now I am becoming more technically adept, without cutting the speaker off, I don’t need to get out of my pyjamas, etc, etc. All these spontaneous reactions are framed in disappointment at the thought of a disembodied voice. I have to acknowledge that before the virus I avoided speaking on the phone whenever I could, but all things change and that phobia disappeared over night.
  2. Agreed there are all sorts of technical hitches including freezing, loss of sound, receiving agitated texts that the person cannot gain entry because the invite says I am already in another meeting, et al. I am learning to keep my blood pressure down, not to retort, ‘It’s your Zoom technology that is at fault, mine is just fine.’ Like unannounced interruptions in the consulting room it is all grist for the mill.
  3. There is no way I could conduct 5 or 6 telephone consultations a day without feeling disembodied and alienated. I repudiate that Zoom prevents us from reading each other’s body language. I am having to metabolise the fact that I am under much closer, observation, even scrutiny by the person I am talking to than when I am in my consulting room, where there are many more diversions and people have to learn that if you gaze away into the diagonal you are not doing so out of boredom. I also have to acknowledge that all the comments I have received, which hitherto have not been forthcoming in the consulting room about my demeanour, vocal expressions, and states of conscious/unconscious anxiety which are picked up by the person I am talking to have been accurately mirrored back to me. I simply could not work on a daily basis speaking on the phone.

I have just had the experience of being about to admit my next ‘patient’ when an unsolicited text flashed. I have not yet learnt how to operate computer settings and remove alerts. Nat West informed me I was about to go into overdraft. Their communication indicated a scam. I panicked, cancelled the Zoom meeting and sorted out the error within minutes. My adrenalin was/is up and I did not feel able with authenticity to commence the Zoom, which now means a weekend call and the fact that briefly I am free to finish my diary. Better for the cancelled person as her children will then be in bed; coping with three young children without help is anyone’s challenge. Had I happened to see that text in the context of my consulting room – yes, I was even then compulsively checking my phone in-between sessions – With the sound of footsteps already upon the stairs, I would have had no alternative other than to try and conceal my anxiety and potential distraction.

JD has now replied to my email this morning asking him if he wanted me to edit anything out from our email our interaction. He has kindly given me permission to print his reply:

A very interesting post, and nothing I’d wish to edit! Will be interesting to see once this is all over how many people end up preferring video sessions to face to face. Another thing I’ve noticed is how many more distractions I find when doing a group video conference for work, compared to a group phone call. I think the knowledge that no one else can see the rest of my computer screen either side of the zoom window makes it too easy/tempting to have the BBC news website open, or my emails or something else non-work related. One of my solicitors actually suggested yesterday that we had a group telephone call, not a Zoom meeting, and in many ways I much preferred it and found it more productive. Maybe that’s just because it’s what we’ve been used to doing for years, but also I liked having a headset on and being able to walk around the room whilst talking. I agree with you though that for therapy sessions I prefer the idea of video call to a telephone. To discuss on Monday! 

I would add to J’s reference to his solicitor that I was recently talking socially to a senior divorce lawyer. We were commiserating about our mutual tiredness. She offered her own explanation: in past times when she was in Court both participants’s legal teams sat, with a gangway separating them facing the judge. Everyone faces the judge. This is not possible during court cases that are now being conducted on Zoom. Every wince, every whispered response, giggle or guffaw of scorn is witnessed by the opposing legal team. No longer is the judge the only focus of collective interest. Everyone is scrutinising ‘everyone’!

I have just returned from the dentist for what I thought could only be an inspection. I have also learnt about dentistry for conscripts to the Vietnam war and how its classification has influenced the Government’s decision to close down the dental practices. Tomorrow…

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