If my Zoom camera was not already off and my microphone muted by the time my professor announced a breakout room, there was a high probability they soon would be. Either I'd already finished the task we were supposed to be discussing or had absolutely no clue how to do so. Plus, did I really want everyone to see my face in bad morning lighting?
As so many areas of our life have moved online — everything from class to family Christmas gatherings — many students are encountering these types of situations. And while the vibrancy of discussion in my statistic's class breakout room does not keep me awake at night, I am concerned about the many other areas in which unbridled use of technology may bring lasting consequences.
Universities, and society in general, have adjusted to functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic and are now considering how things will look as it wanes. As we further our understanding of the virus and vaccines become widely available, a return to normal will be possible. Students will have to decide what type of education and what type of life they desire. As we face this decision, we can not accept solely online interactions as the new normal.
Receiving one’s education online was increasing in popularity even before COVID-19 and has now in many cases become not just an option, but the only choice. As these past months have made clear to many, however, a solely online future for education is not desirable for the individual or society. Life online must not be embraced as the new normal.
After a long day of Zoom meetings and online assignments, I can't help but feel a strong sense of apathy and disengagement from the world around me. As if it wasn't hard enough to stay engaged with work to begin with, it can now seem impossible. This feeling is in large part due to the absence of any positive distractions one may encounter outside of their dorm or home, primarily others to interact with.
Instead, one is left with purely negative distractions like scrolling through depressing political memes on social media. Our feelings of apathy can easily carry into other areas of life, affecting how we feel about ourselves, how we treat others and our motivation to improve our own characters.
In addition, many of us are now missing out on a multitude of simple everyday occurrences that we once took for granted. I never realized the actual importance of walking from class to class, ordering chicken fingers from Goodbody or even being forced to do group work with fellow human beings. Indeed many of us are now realizing that it is these inconspicuous events which break up the humdrum of what would otherwise be an unpleasant day.
Most importantly, it is also during class or in-person activities where many find friendships and experience a greater diversity of thought.
Lack of understanding between people who view the world differently has been a growing concern for some time. Moving further online at the expense of in-person settings that bring together a variety of people will only exacerbate this. Even those who have taken the socially prolific feat of clicking "start video" on Zoom are still in many ways anonymous strangers. This is to say nothing of those who we know only by their username and profile picture.
With this so often being the limits of our interpersonal connections, it is easy to forget the humanity of the person behind the other screen. We can quickly come to see them as hopelessly lost in ignorance, irreconcilably different from oneself and likely a pretty terrible person.
Interactions in real-world settings, however, often bring out quite the opposite.
When we meet someone face-to-face we are more likely to desire connection through friendly topics that foster good feeling. When controversial matters do come up, face-to-face conversations are less demonizing and more productive.
Broadly speaking, platforms such as Zoom and other modern technologies can be a great benefit. A permanent embrace of the way things are in the present moment would place every individual and society at large in a precarious state. As with so many good things, one must be mindful of their own behavior to keep a proper sense of balance.
It is indeed easy to forsake that balance when provided the opportunity to roll out of bed and click a Zoom link. The daily journey to class certainly takes more effort, but in the end this is one of those cases where the harder choice is the better choice. A day lacking in meaningful experiences provides little incentive to face it optimistically. Therefore you must choose motivation over apathy and togetherness over separation, ensuring you have a reason to make each day worthwhile and not simply survivable.
Charlie Willis is a Law and Public Policy major and Religious Studies minor. He is a member of Cru and a former member of IUSG Congress. Oddly, he maintains a community of 150+ pet rocks with their own government.