So, why did we all start waving? Experts have several explanations. As video calling becomes a default way of communicating during the pandemic, people adjust and adapt their behaviors accordingly — plus they’re craving more of a human connection.
“This personal touch is missing,” said Laura Dudley, an associate clinical professor at Northeastern University and expert in behavior analysis and body language. “We’re hungering for that human interaction, that friendliness, so we’re starting to do things like waving to say goodbye. It feels a little nicer than just clicking off.”
In person, there are subtle (and not-so-subtle) social cues, such as closing a notebook, checking your watch, putting things in a bag or getting ready to stand up, that show an interaction is winding down. But those same signals don’t translate on video calls, so experts say people are trying new behaviors that better suit virtual communication, such as waving and smiling, even in an otherwise professional setting.
“People are overperforming social cues of closure because X-ing out a window on your computer is so much more ambiguous than standing up, walking out of a room, or doing other signaling for in person terminations of meetings,” said Melanie Brewster, associate professor of counseling psychology at Columbia University.
Waving is also a way to make the end of meetings less awkward and sudden, said Gretchen McCulloch, an internet linguist and author of “Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language.”
“With video calls, once you’re gone, you’re gone, it’s abrupt,” she said. “When you see everyone waving, you know that everyone is prepared for this call to end and you’re not going to be suddenly hanging up on somebody.”
That feeling of completion is an important part of communication, according to Larry Rosen, a professor emeritus of psychology and co-author of the book “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.”
“The hand wave just says we’re done,” Rosen said. “Our instinct is we need to close and complete that loop. In person, we can close it with our words, but that doesn’t work in a large meeting on Zoom.”
The gesture is a regression to basics of sorts, as waving is one of the first elements of language we learn as babies. Plus, it’s easier than everyone trying to say goodbye at once and speaking over each other. “We’ve had to adapt. The easiest thing for us was waving goodbye. It’s just kind of a natural thing. How do you say goodbye? You wave,” Rosen said.