One of the unexpected parts of my pandemic routine has been a regular Friday night game of online poker. Back when I was a younger, I used to play quite a lot of poker – without the complications of small children waking you up the following day, I’d play through the night, collapsing in a heap as the dawn rose and my diminishing stack of chips had disappeared.

The Friday night poker game is a meet up with a group of friends from university. They’re people I’ve played poker with on and off for, well, decades now. One of the reasons that the game has sustained, apart from friendship, is that we’re all relatively evenly matched. Sometimes one person wins: the next, it’s someone else. But what has been interesting in switching online is that this balance has shifted. Over the first few weeks of playing, I found myself comfortably top of our mini-league table – from an offline also-ran, I now became the online man to beat.

This left me thinking about the wider differences between the real and the digital world. Changes as we’ve switched over to online participation are everywhere. In the House of Commons, the atmosphere has completely altered: rather than facing a bear pit of braying backbenchers, politicians now debate in near silence, a situation that plays neatly into the hands of a former lawyer such as Keir Starmer. As the nation has logged on to Zoom to conduct work and play, more and more people have been noticing a similar sensation – tiredness. This has led to the term Zoom Fatigue.

But why is a one-hour meeting online more exhausting than one in real life? The science is still a bit sketchy on this, but a number of articles I’ve read suggest that one of the reasons comes down to how we use body language. Back in the early 1970s, psychology professor Albert Mehrabian developed what was then a ground-breaking theory into how humans communicate – in his particular experiment, he suggested that just 7% of communication is down to the words spoken, 38% the way they’re said and 55% the body language that accompanies.

Mehrabian’s theory has been debated and argued about over the years, but whatever the actual percentages, body language clearly plays an important role. And in an online setting, those non-verbal cues aren’t there in quite the same way. This leads to participants straining and struggling to understand what’s being said. The fact you’re often faced with a gallery of faces means that you’re attempting this with many people at one time.

Back in my poker game, have I been able to better hide my usual tells? Perhaps. Or maybe I’ve just been lucky.