Posted by ponderingleaves on March 23, 2022, 7:50 a.m. 4 comments

A matter borne of our pandemic-induced Zoom era has prompted disdain among a few of us who host death cafes. It is what I’ve dubbed the “black box syndrome.” That is, it has become increasingly common for individuals to join the discussions groups in facial absentia, with the video function turned off, causing us to see only a dark box with a name or a static image of some sort. 


For some, this practice feels like an affront to the intimacy of a conversation that engenders expressions of a personal and sometimes emotive nature. It poses a sense of separation rather than connection. If one of “the boxes” utters a remark, the person behind it seems more remote.


What does it mean to be part of an online death cafe? Is someone whose face cannot be seen a full-fledged participant? Might it be considered borderline voyeurism when someone plugs in merely as a listener (though maybe an occasional commenter) with the video function turned off?


Zoom burnout has become a reality for many online-saturated, busy people who aim to multi-task during a session while catching the gist of what’s going on. And there are times when it is necessary to take a visual leave of absence for a few moments.


It has reached a point, though, where there are sometimes fewer animated attendees at gatherings (of various sorts) than static, lifeless images or boxes.


Death cafe discussions offer opportunities for intimate connections with one another. Visual absence may diminish the sense of communion that this type of milieu generates. Seeing nuances of expression enables us to hone in on interpretative perceptions beyond spoken words. And probably feelings for someone are more reachable.


On the other hand, someone suggested that certain individuals may feel more comfortable behind this curtain of separation. Maybe they wouldn’t attend at all if obligated to be in fully visible presence.


In the context of death cafe discussions, how do you feel about this side effect of our modern manner of communicating electronically? 


I too have experienced this problem, now that our DC's are virtual on Zoom.

Our email announcements now include this statement:

*PLEASE NOTE: Participation in a Death Cafe' refers to showing up and joining a table for authentic conversation on death related topics. On Zoom, that means being visible via the camera on your device. Please remember to turn on your cameras when joining.
Thank you!

Posted by Heather Massey

I like how Heather has gently solved this problem. The whole point in doing DC is that it is face to face with like minded people. At least it would be for me and I hope to influence a DC in my locale soon.

Posted by Traci H eaton

Hi. I'm autistic and used to suffer badly with social anxiety, having the option to take part and listen and chat, without constantly having to watch my stims and body language, has actually been an invaluable experience for me. Please consider neurodivergent people. It's not about voyeurism by any means, it's about accommodations and inclusivity. If my death café host kicked me out because I didn't turn on my webcam I'd be heartbroken and feel very excluded.

Posted by Emma

Hi, interesting points made and all valid. Keep in mind the varying levels of internet viability - many remote and regional areas experience reduced connection. Often keeping the camera off, is one way to reduce the internet data requirement and keep a connection that otherwise cuts out. When our internet connections are slow, we turn off our cameras to enable a meeting to continue. Its a continuous juggle.

Posted by Amber

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