Hearing the word “Zoom Call” is something we have all come to associate with intense dread and foreboding. With the glitchy pixelated faces, the never knowing when you can actually speak, and the gaping silences – somehow made all the louder for our ability to watch each other’s motionless faces as we wait to see who will break the veil of quiet. It takes a truly brave soul to subject oneself to such abject misery.
However, for some of us lucky ducks, this has come at the particularly convenient time of our first year at University. A time revered among many. A time to guzzle £1 pints, get off with strangers, regret getting off with strangers, and attend your 9am lectures with smeared makeup, smelling vaguely of vomit.
Unfortunately for the class of 2020, this was not meant to be. I am a first-year criminology student, who has not yet attended an in-person lecture, seminar, or tutorial. Nor have I met anyone on my course face to face.
Whilst I initially saw this as something of a blessing - as my textbook Gen-X panic over social interaction kicked in - it has now started to become a bit wearying.
This is no news to anyone, and I shall try as hard as I can to avoid the further textbook Gen-X pitfall of assuming my dilemma is any way new or original. This is a problem facing students across the country, and across the globe.
As I’m sure you’ve seen from the plethora of circulating petitions, many students find this unfair. Particularly given that there’s been no reduction in fees, nor partial refunds - despite the decreased quality of teaching and the complete absence of any of the social and extra-curricular components of university life.
In spite of this despondency, when attended with the right attitude Zoom calls can actually be pretty comical. After all, when you’re bored out of your mind – as so many of us are right now – watching your fellow classmate distractedly pick their nose or have a pen burst all over them (or the special treat: A cat entering into the frame) can really spice up the day.
Thankfully, we’ve gotten to the stage now where at least 3 or 4 students feel comfortable enough to turn their cameras on during seminars. This might be an achievement in a class of 6 or 7, alas, in our class of 20 it’s still a little disappointing.
Perhaps the real victims here are the poor (literally) underpaid PhD students forced to present their seminar spiel to row after row of initials, with only the occasional nerd’s overzealous face attempting to nod along (that’s me). I’m sure there isn’t the same level of conversation or intellectual stimulation that we would normally get if we were all in an actual classroom.
Or maybe the losers here are the Boomer-generation lecturers. Watching them week after week try to locate the “share screen” button, presumably experiencing some kind of acute delirium as they struggle even now, 6 months on.
I think what’s important to remember here is that no one is finding this easy. No one is enjoying it, and no one prefers this to the traditional methods of teaching and edification. But of course, there’s people who are finding this ‘uncertain and unprecedented time’ far, far worse.
So, if the worst thing the class of 2020 must endure is the small burst of adrenaline felt when you turn on your microphone for 2 minutes, then maybe it’s not all that bad. After all, we can all live in hope of the day when another cat walks into an unsuspecting lecturer’s camera frame.
Maisie Wilson is a first year Criminology mature student at York St John University. She has worked as a chef and a mechanic and can usually be found extolling the virtues of trees.
You can find her on Instagram @mse_wilson