Anyone who’s dealt with motion sickness will tell you it’s annoying to say the least. Occasionally it’s severe but passes quickly, like a thunderstorm. But for me, more often than not, it’s a vague sensation that drags on; I’m not in danger of losing my lunch, but I’m not going to be hungry anytime soon. After many a delayed roadtrip with my family, I learned it was probably best that I not try to read in the car. Or on a boat. Or a train. Airplanes are okay...sometimes.
Fast-forward to the end of March. I prepared myself for a multitude of issues and annoyances during quarantine, but motion sickness was not among them, particularly since my average voyage was to be the walk from the kitchen back to the sofa. Oh, to be the young, naive Scarlett of 6 weeks ago.
After two full weeks of company-wide WFH, I noticed I was starting to feel sick almost every afternoon. Not sick enough to call a doctor or even take something, but queasy enough that I knew I didn’t want to be within 6 feet of a screen. Everyone’s heard of eye strain and headaches as a result of too much screen time, but nausea? Was I going crazy? Like any reasonable person, I Googled my symptoms.
It turns out that there’s a name for my not-at-all-made-up malady: Cybersickness. Similar to motion sickness, cybersickness is brought on by something called sensory mismatch. When you’re scrolling quickly, watching videos or wearing a VR headset, your eyes perceive movement that your proprioceptors (the sense that tells your body where you are in space) do not. Those who experience sea- or carsickness are more likely to feel the effects of cybersickness, as are those who suffer from migraines. According to this New York Times piece, the more realistic the video, the more likely you are to feel woozy.
So add cybersickness to your list of reasons to take a screen break, as I’ve learned to do. Not every call needs to be a video conference, and there’s something to be said for going analog. Take notes by hand! Hopefully with this in mind, Pepto Bismol won’t be the new toilet paper.