The transition to online learning and working has made me realize what a precious and irreplaceable thing it is to commune in a room with other people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s comforting to log onto Zoom and see the faces of my classmates, professors, co-workers, and friends. But it’s also disorienting for them to only exist in tiny boxes on my screen. Classes that were close-knit when we were still meeting in-person now feel stilted on-screen—in true Midwestern form, nobody wants to step on each other’s toes, even virtually, so hand-offs during class discussion are awkward and clumsy. It cheers me up, though, to know that our regional mannerisms are holding fast.
Without the staccato of classes, meetings, and work in different locations on campus and around Bloomington, my days bleed into one another. Time is sludgy, unreal—even when I wake up, start working at a normal pre-pandemic time, and put in a full day’s work, the day still feels both hopelessly long and hopelessly short. I’m working more but accomplishing less. The fact that I’m staring at my laptop screen more than ever doesn’t help; I often find myself derailed by some Wikipedia rabbit hole, and before I know it, three hours have passed.
If this all sounds bleak, let it be a large bellow in defense of a small part of life as we knew it: People are great! Small, intimate classroom settings in which you come together and discuss a complex idea are great! Bumping into a friend unexpectedly in front of Ballantine—also great! (These many exclamation marks in a row—maybe not so great.)
The virtual world is a great tool, but if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I want to mediate my life through a screen less, not more.