Edward Simon Cruz
If you heard a collective sigh on Tuesday, November 2, it might have been the sound of adults rolling out of bed and resolving not to vote on Election Day. It also might have been the sound of teachers and students rolling out of bed (or not) and resolving to enjoy (or not) the one-day nostalgia trip back into virtual school.
Perhaps we needed something of a break after two months back in person. Perhaps we did not want a reminder of those days when we wanted to break because the agony of the video call was becoming too much to bear. Regardless, the governor had made his decision — any school to be used for voting could go virtual on Election Day — and not only would the masks come off everyone’s faces, most of those faces would then disappear behind the cloak of the black box.
Staring at twenty-something black boxes can be demoralizing. It’s rows of names in white text, interrupted by the occasional profile picture, camera tilted upward, or poorly-lit room. Usually, a few people do want to reveal themselves without becoming the teacher’s pet, so they sit tensed up, looking around at the other boxes, waiting to see if one of those boxes — any of those boxes — will switch to reveal the most elusive of things: a human face.
It’s almost comforting to see another face, as if you’ve been reminded that yes, we’re all suffering through this together. The exception is watching the camera of that one person who wants to impress the teacher by enthusiastically having their camera on for the entire class. (“Give it up,” you think. “They already know what you look like. Or at least, they know what the top half of your face looks like.”) But on that chilly November morning, it did not matter if you were that one person who insisted on keeping their camera on, the type who only turned their camera on if others did the same, or the type who only turned their camera on if goaded into doing so. For just a little bit, all of us could come together in reliving the good old days.
Those were the days when teachers fumbled with their computers while attempting to open breakout rooms or share their screens. Those were the days when hearing a student answer the teacher’s question was tantamount to finding water in the desert. Those were the days when someone would accidentally forget to mute themselves and inadvertently broadcast some embarrassing sound to everyone, waking up half of the class in the middle of an otherwise uneventful lesson. In times like those, few things were more uniting than the experience of sitting on a Zoom call and wondering, “What the [bleep] is going on right now?”
On that chilly November morning, we remembered what it was like to relive the same day over and over again; however, we had enough hindsight to realize the ways in which we’d changed since the start of the Groundhog Day-esque loop that was virtual school. We then emerged from our hibernation spots, saw our shadows, and realized that there would be six more weeks of winter even amid another chilly November morning.
If you heard a collective sigh on Wednesday, November 3, it might have been the sound of people relieved that they were done reliving that nightmarish loop. It also might have been the sound of people realizing that, in person, they were about to resume a loop of a different sort — a loop that might have been less monotonous but was every bit as nightmarish as the one they thought they’d left.