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Up close and personal.

Science has confirmed what you already know—being on Zoom all day is existentially exhausting. Communication professor Jeremy Bailenson, director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, looked at the psychological effects of spending hours at a time on Zoom and other video platforms and identified four causes of Zoom fatigue along with some very easy fixes. Here’s one you can try before your next meeting: Reduce the size of the Zoom window (don’t use the full-screen setting) and, if you’re on a laptop, use an external keyboard to give yourself a little space from the screen. This helps because prolonged, up-close eye contact is stressful, Bailenson says, especially when the faces are larger than life. “In general, for most setups, if it’s a one-on-one conversation when you’re with co-workers or even strangers on video, you’re seeing their face at a size which simulates a personal space that you normally experience when you’re with somebody intimately,” he says, an intensity level the human brain interprets as a precursor to one of two things: mating or conflict. No wonder you felt weird after the morning meeting.

If you want to participate in a study that will help researchers develop a Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale, take this survey, and let’s hope the scale goes to 11.


Campus right now.

In a February 2 message to the campus community, Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and provost Persis Drell announced that the university will welcome juniors and seniors to campus for spring quarter, if they choose to come. Most undergraduate instruction will continue to be remote, regardless of whether a student is living on campus. Earlier last month, Tessier-Lavigne announced that a virtual celebration would take the place of a traditional Commencement again this year. “Although we are seeing some hopeful signs in the trajectory of COVID-19, we do not realistically expect large in-person gatherings to be possible in Santa Clara County by this June.” The campus-wide celebration to honor graduates will be livestreamed on Sunday, June 13. An in-person event to celebrate the classes of ’20 and ’21 is promised for a future date.

What’s it like to be a frosh this year? “I still need to learn the Stanford language where they just kind of shorten words and make the syllables ‘-o.’ FloMo . . . I don’t know what that is,” said Sala Ba of Virginia. Here’s what seven members of the Class of 2024 told Stanford magazine.


A new department.

A framework task force that was formed in the fall has recommended that African and African American studies, a 52-year-old program at Stanford, become a department. Provost Persis Drell and Debra Satz, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, accepted the recommendation and are forming a subcommittee to address the details of the proposed department, including an assessment of faculty needs, a curriculum plan and a detailed timeline.


How’s the weather up there?

Crane replacing top of Hoover TowerPhoto: Andrew Brodhead

 

When lightning struck steel-framed Hoover Tower in August, it shattered the concrete orb at the top and affected the building’s servers as electricity traveled through the structure. Last month, the tower underwent reconstruction to replace the orb. (Check out the slideshow.) Stanford engineers also installed a copper lightning rod that extends from 18 inches above the orb through the tower to eight feet below ground, along with a counter system in the basement to track future lightning strikes. Crews had to work quickly because it’s almost nesting season for the falcons who lay their eggs in the tower. Plans are underway with Stanford biologists to mount nesting boxes for the birds. (Can we get a falcon cam, please?)


Because comfort has been at a premium lately.

The way the pandemic has changed the use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs can teach us something about the nature of substance abuse, says Stanford Medicine’s Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Humphreys, whose 2020 meta-analysis of 35 studies on the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous found it to be significantly better than other treatments for maintaining sobriety, explains how the pandemic has affected the three Cs: the cues that trigger a desire to use a substance, the convenience of acquiring it and the need for comfort behind some people’s use. For those whose cue to drink wine is sitting down to dinner in a restaurant, for example, wine consumption may have leveled off when restaurants closed for indoor dining. “In contrast, for people with a well-entrenched habit of using substances at home, lockdown may make avoiding the desire to use very difficult.”

As for traditionally in-person treatment options, Anna Lembke, MD ’95, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, told Stanford Medicine’s Scope blog last summer that the pandemic may have made it easier for newcomers to get help. “For people who are regular members and deeply embedded in a tight-knit circle, the online group experience doesn’t measure up to face-to-face encounters. But for patients who are new to AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and who have been reluctant to attend peer recovery meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous due to concerns about anonymity, they are now more willing to give it a try.”


The economic cost of learning loss.

Education policy researcher and Hoover senior fellow Eric Hanushek, along with Hoover research fellow Margaret Raymond, the founding director of Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, studied learning loss caused by pandemic-related school closures in 18 states and Washington, D.C. In a Wall Street Journal story, Hanushek and Raymond explain how hundreds of hours of lost reading and math time could leave a generation of children struggling to keep up. Hanushek points to 1966–67 Germany, where a change to academic calendars temporarily shortened the school year. That cohort of students earned 5 percent less over their lifetimes. All told, the researchers expect the “skill shock” of 2020 could result in up to $30 trillion of lost economic output in the U.S. and lower the lifetime household incomes of the affected students by 6 to 9 percent.


But wait, there’s more.

Text etiquette is different between people under the same roof. “You can choose to read right away or not, and you can choose to respond immediately or delay your response until you inevitably run into the person in the kitchen and address it then,” Elias Aboujaoude, MD ’98, MA ’98, a clinical professor of psychiatry, told CNN. In other words, it’s OK to leave your kid on read.

Kari Nadeau, a professor of medicine and of pediatrics, is transforming the treatment of severe food allergies. “Some people are already getting cured,” she told Stanford magazine.

Not just an empty fad: The more closely people track their weight-loss efforts with digital tools, the more weight they tend to lose.

Just a single day of exposure to air pollution, such as wildfire smoke and car exhaust, can alter genes and put children at higher risk for heart disease and other illnesses in adulthood, say Stanford researchers.

On March 17, microbiologist and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, PhD ’06, will speak live from the International Space Station with Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, and microbiology and immunology professor David Relman about her career path and doing science experiments in space, and you can join them.

“If we’ve gone on a little run and the visiting team is calling a time-out, panicking a bit, we need to come in with a hot song, something that’s going to keep that energy level up.” Meet the two women responsible for keeping spirits high in a fan-free Maples Pavilion.

Know justice, know peace: Check out this Stanford Alumni Association resource for events, news and information related to racial justice.


Summer Moore Batte, ’99, is the editor of Stanfordmag.org. Email her at summerm@stanford.edu.

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