Five things we’ll miss: a sequel

Photo courtesy of metacritic.com.

PAUL BERTUGLIA | STAFF REPORTER | pbertugl@butler.edu

The COVID-19 vaccine is here, and as the mirage of normal life is shimmering on the horizon, the petrichor of post-pandemic life is approaching our agoraphobic nostrils. The widespread vaccine distribution has given hope to President James Danko’s March 2 email announcing an optimistic plan for a “normal” fall semester — even if it ostensibly was just a heartless marketing tool to continue to secure our tuition.

While a return to normalcy is undoubtedly good news, the disruption and suffering caused by COVID-19 will linger for years, if not decades. The vaccine, while preventing the virus from running a train through our immune systems, may not prevent the anxiety induced by pandemic life from ravaging our minds — it may not be the panacea we are all hoping it is.

However, the past year has been such a collective chapter of our lives that we will not forget nor cease to reference. From the major social trends such as the adoption of online class and staying at home most nights of the week, to the habits and routines we have developed such as using the phrases “with everything going on in the world right now,” “because of covid and all that” and the various p-word substitutions for the word pandemic, including — but not limited to — “panoramic,” “panini” and “pandemonium,” there are already plenty of contributors to the ineffable aura we are about to endearingly reminisce upon.

Canvas “discussion post” relationships

Canvas discussion posts are meant to supplement or substitute classroom participation in the absence of a physical classroom. Most professors ask that you make your own post responding to the topic at hand, then reply to a couple of other students. 

Socially, discussion post responses serve as sort of mild affirmation, an “I like you enough to read what you wrote” kind of thing, and not really much else. Still, there is a moment of intimacy when Lindsey from history “completely agrees” with your post a few weeks in a row.

You stare at your laptop, ignoring how Josh responded right above that, thinking about what this could mean, ultimately concluding that she wants more than a discussion-board relationship that simply mutually benefits your grades. You look out for her in class, hoping that the Zoom gods bless you two with a breakout room together.

Like all relationships, though, it must end; soon, you find out she has been unfaithful, responding to another person’s posts all the while, and lachrymose misery ensues. Now, you gaze out a rainy window, watch the world go by and contemplate both the inevitable march of time and space of which nobody will ever see the end of. You’ll think of the objectionable esoteric desires of man that have caused your loneliness, that have caused joy to allude your grasp for so long.

Zoom, breakout rooms, etc.

Zoom contains multitudes. It’s convenient, mobilizes the classroom, provides the benefit of waking up mere minutes before class and creates the possibility of optional attention. On the other hand, Zoom is unbearable with its reliance on subpar Butler Wi-Fi and the demand to always be camera ready. Introverts thrive in the comfort of their little box and extroverts feel suppressed by the shortcomings of digital communication.

Zoom is a unique experience, to say the least. Future nostalgia towards the app may include missing the ambiance created by your peer’s string lights or fireplace and looking like Stuart Little.

The all-consuming totality of breakout rooms will especially be missed. In breakout rooms, you can talk to someone in class without the pressures of blank yet judgmental and chthonic faces littering the screen which is, for many, relieving. In addition, the idling anxiety when you don’t do a reading or watch the last lecture is — temporarily — pacified by an understanding student who is, oftentimes, in the exact same position.

But, let’s face it: breakout rooms are not embarrassment-free, given the pressures of being locked in a room with a stranger and forced to communicate, made worse by the fact that it must be about the coursework. Similarly, a newfound pressure forms when the professor pops into the room with startling alacrity, ensuring all are on task.

The most fond and memorable moments of breakout rooms are the collective sighs of relief when the professor leaves and you all commend each other on bullshitting a few faux-intelligent sentences while the others nod. Then, at the end of the escape room-esque five minutes, as the cavalcade of students return to the main room, the smiles fade back to blank expressions upon the professor’s first words asking the class what they talked about while they were gone.

Ready-made excuses

The pandemic has been an omnipresent hindrance in making plans. Or has it?

Whether it is actually in the way or not, the simple concept of its monolithic presence serves as a fail-safe, irrefutable excuse for most, if not all, occasions.

On the one hand, it is a valid excuse for underachievement. Classes are harder when the country is seemingly on the precipice of a Roman-esque collapse, as are finding jobs and making friends when going outside is discouraged.

On the other hand, it can be a “get out of jail free” card from people or events you have no interest in. Oh, for real? You and your roommates have had a COVID-19 scare for the third week in a row? I get it —  no, I really do.

It will soon be impossible to blame COVID-19 for whatever you want. Telling someone you don’t like them and realizing the shame in being a disappointment to both yourself and your family will have to be met head-on using skills that may or may not have been depleted in a year of inactivity. 

Collective concern for hygiene

It is truly baffling to imagine a world as unsanitized as it was just a year ago. The idea that we were essentially dwelling in one another’s germ-infested warmth is repulsive. Still, we are not as pedantic with cleanliness as we should be, even in the time of COVID-19. The buckets of wet-wipes are there, but their use is not really enforced.

The wet wipes and hand sanitizer at every door and the process of actually using them is something that should undoubtedly stay, but their unfortunate removal, along with the removal of the pointless tape arrows, will likely be one of the telltale signs that COVID-19 is long gone.

The dank fraternity basements that we have, possibly reluctantly, avoided for the past year will be populated once again, not in the least to celebrate immunity and return to normalcy.

I wonder how many people have actually developed and internalized the negative connotations of public events and wouldn’t even think of entering a crowded frat basement. Maybe I am just being too hopeful.

Social and academic relief

Wearing a mask became a sartorial norm for the greater good and created an age of concealed expression, oft-complained about by professors in lieu of an unanswered question.

The age of concealed expression may have been what we all needed. Masks and the pandemic have made us all reevaluate social norms and etiquette of the past. The concealment of expression, notably the infamous compression of lips into a faint smile, is relieving. Why will we eventually criticize ourselves again for the gradation of a smile offered to an acquaintance on campus when we should be grateful for the ability to share mask-less space at all?

Academically, the digital-distance of the pandemic was certainly used to our advantage. We have all found ways to get the right answer on a quiz or test that is ostensibly harder than just studying the topic. For example, scouring uncountable amounts of Quizlet sets and using “inspect element” to remove the blur on Chegg.

Many quizzes and exams have become open-note to preserve the notion of academic integrity that was inevitably going to be violated without monitoring, and rightfully so. Don’t get me wrong, students are still overloaded with assignments, but we’ll take a few more small assignments over studying for an exam any day. Consider this an ode to artifice.

While most of us have not passed the past year with aplomb, we can look back with nostalgic eyes, knowing that, in the end, the real treasure was the friends and memories we made along the way and, of course, that big bald head projected on the screen.

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