Photo by Einav Tsach
When the coronavirus pandemic forced us into our homes for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and the majority of the current year, many members of the community struggled with the social isolation caused by virtual learning and quarantine. I relate. I struggled with this, too.
For me, Zoom came to represent the barrier between the new normal and the normal that disappeared months before this school year began. I felt angry. But most of all, I was sad; sad that I couldn’t see my friends, sad that I spent eight hours staring at a screen every day and, honestly, just sad that I couldn’t be with other people.
As time passed, I adjusted to this routine of no-routine. As humans, we enjoy consistency and familiarity, and at some point, even with the isolation and sadness of not being able to interact with friends and family as we used to, Zoom provided that. I had gotten used to waking up at 8:50 AM, rolling out of bed for class, checking my phone whenever I wanted and daydreaming through lessons.
I even got used to not physically interacting with friends. Using the “Reactions” button on Zoom felt more normal than making a physical gesture or a vocal remark. I had figured out how to live within the virtual barriers set by my laptop.
But then, to my surprise, MCPS confirmed that we could choose to go back to school following spring break. Vaccinations were speeding up, restrictions were being lifted and the overall state of our lives seemed to be transitioning back to something distant, yet seemingly familiar.
As I’d later find out, it wasn’t familiar.
I was thrilled to be going back. The night before the first day, I stayed up until midnight, delightedly packing my things and making sure I was ready. It was the first time that I would drive to school, adding to my excitement.
As soon as I walked into the building, some strange feeling crept over me. I didn’t realize it, nor understand it at the time, but something felt wrong. In my later reflections, I recognized that feeling: I experienced it when we began Zooming in March and April of 2020.
All throughout the day, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt awkward and unfocused, finding myself struggling to keep up with the content I was learning. And when I got back home, I was exhausted and crashed on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon.
The experience of being at school, transitioning between classes and having lunch with friends felt foreign, not familiar (as I’d previously expected). My friends said they experienced similar feelings.
A year of Zooming has, in my belief, rewired our brains. We have gotten so used to the negative states of separation and seclusion, that when we are presented with an opportunity for real, meaningful face-to-face interaction, we find it unknown.
At the end of the day, humans are social beings; I have no doubt that eventually, we’ll get back to naturally interacting with others. It’s just a question of when, and what will be the long-lasting effects of this time period.