October 20, 2020

YAO | Zoom and Gloom

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Every time I leave a Zoom meeting, I’m left with an acute sense of emptiness. There’s no satisfaction or relief derived from getting through a lecture without falling asleep. No lingering sense of happiness that usually comes from catching up with a friend. With a single click, I’m thrust back into the stark silence of my room — a silence that only reminds me how much of an illusion these on-screen interactions really are.

Think about it: At the most basic level, we’re conversing with an amalgam of pixels that either form people’s out-of-focus faces or black boxes with some white letters on them. It might not seem apparent on day one of quarantine, but by day 200, the descent away from easy conversation has reached new heights.

Even when I speak with friends, I tend to disguise true emotions. I smile wider, talk louder and stare at the webcam to force some semblance of eye contact. It just doesn’t seem right to have a heart-to-heart and then press “Leave Meeting” right after. More than anything, the added step of scheduling meeting time highlights the relationships born from circumstance and shortens the amount of time we spend holding on to them. Not all friendships can withstand the distance that this pandemic requires. It hasn’t been an easy pill to swallow.

Zoom classes have suffered the same loss of intimacy. I have a hard time associating the blank squares on screen as real people taking the same class as me. There’s a disconnect between professor and student, and I’m reminded of how purely transactional lectures can seem when there’s so little engagement. Not even the Zoom breakout rooms,where the awkwardness is so thick I can feel it 500 miles away from Ithaca, can offer a reprieve. I find myself missing the casualness of in-person discussions and finding camaraderie between strangers.

Psychiatrist Gian Petriglieri says it best: “Every time you connect to a Zoom call, you are having two experiences at the same time: the experience of reaching, and the experience of what you’ve lost.” Every conversation leaves me wishing for something more substantial, but I cannot pinpoint exactly what it is that I need. The ability to speak without cutting out, perhaps. Or less stilted small-talk. Most likely it’s all of the above, and a million other things.

Typically, I try to end my columns on a more positive note, but I find it difficult for this one.

Maybe it’s because I’m writing this whilst staring outside my window at the third straight day of dreary skies. Maybe it’s because I have three prelims coming up that I’m absolutely screwed for. In any case, if you were looking for encouragement, a call to action or even some good ole’ bashing, sorry to disappoint. The only thing I can offer you is solidarity. If you feel even a little bit lost, a little bit jaded, know that a Cornellian in Ohio who is straight-up not having a good time right now is right there with you.

Katherine Yao is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at kyao@cornellsun.com. Her column, Hello Katie, runs every other Wednesday this semester.