October 15, 2020

WANG | Smile, You’re on Camera

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As most of you reading this probably know, online classes kind of suck. Yes, online classes do mean I can get up ten minutes before class and still be on time. However, this also means that when I collapse into my desk chair and open up Zoom, there is a very high chance that my brain is still half asleep, and I will not fully process the majority of what my professor is saying. But in my opinion, that’s not the worst part of online classes. To me, the worst part is showing up to my classes and discovering that pretty much every single person has their camera off.

Of course, I am completely aware that some people need to keep their cameras off for personal reasons. And that’s obviously completely reasonable and acceptable. But there is just no way that out of the 70 people in my discussion-oriented history class, less than ten are able to keep their camera on the entire time. It’s even worse in my smaller classes, when there have been times when almost everyone has their camera off in a 16-person class for absolutely no reason. I know from personal experience that most of the time, when you turn your camera off, it’s not because you’re having computer issues or have something going on that doesn’t allow you to turn on your camera. It’s because you’re doing something else, like folding your laundry or working out, and don’t want to risk anyone else noticing.

College tuition is very expensive, and unfortunately, I am not paying all this money to watch Tiktoks and Netflix all day. Remember, we are paying for this, so you might as well get your money’s worth. I know, sometimes staring at your screen for hours means that all you want to do is crawl back into bed. I get that. It is very hard to focus when your professor is just a tiny square on your screen, and you still have that tab with the next episode of your favorite show open. But when you turn your camera on, it’s a lot harder to get away with being distracted. I’ve personally found that when I turn on my camera, I want to participate more in the class, and I am better at actually listening to what the professor is saying.

Plus, think of your professors. Like everyone else, they’re trying their best in this highly trying time, and I really don’t think they particularly enjoy talking to a bunch of blank squares. I know I find it especially unpleasant. It feels vaguely black mirror-esque, like I’m talking to a bunch of virtual characters. Honestly, talking to a blank square in a breakout room of one has been one of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve had this semester. I would honestly much prefer the awkward not-quite eye contact that comes with trying to stare into your computer camera.

Think of turning on your camera not as a burden, but as an opportunity, especially if you’re at home this semester. You can use keeping your camera on as incentive to finally tidy up your room, or change out of the pajamas that you’ve been wearing all day into something somewhat presentable. Particularly if you’re joining from home, these classes are the closest you’re probably going to get to seeing your classmates this semester, and it’s always good to have some sort of human interaction, even if it’s limited to pixels on a screen. Who knows, maybe someone will notice that cool poster on your wall and strike up a conversation and you’ll make a new friend in one of your classes, just like in in-person classes.

Granted, keeping your camera on can sometimes result in slightly awkward situations, such as your friend dramatically tripping on your chair while you’re in the middle of class. There’s also the time I saw a girl filing her nails in my english class. But at worst, these incidents just make for amusing anecdotes. So the next time you log onto Zoom university, consider turning on your camera. After all, that buzzfeed quiz telling you what piece of furniture you are can probably wait.

Wendy Wang is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ww376@cornell.edu. Common Nonsense runs every other Friday this semester.