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Stephanie Koo / Staff Illustrator

Sitting in bed, I am scrolling through my phone and thinking about getting up to go drink a cup of coffee. For just that fleeting moment, life feels normal—until I realize that I’m at home and not waking up to my roommate’s alarm in Woodbridge Hall. I’ve lived on Long Island since I was five, but today, home doesn’t feel like home; being here seems wrong, despite the fact that this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve been violently ripped away from the life I was living before most of our community was sent home. Adapting to this new lifestyle has been daunting.

Normally, the common space of campus brings friends together while they eat, study, and engage in the simplest forms of leisure. As the luxury of being on campus is taken away from all of us, we not only miss our friends as we would during any break but do so in conjunction with the anxious uncertainty over when we might ever see them again. Technology is generous, of course, and there is much that can be done over Zoom or Houseparty. But critically, we’ve lost the comfort of physically being in a shared space as we talk to our friend who we can now only see through a pixelated webcam.

Herein arises a destructive cycle. Staying inside causes us to feel lonely, bored, and even trapped. However, the inability to be in a shared space strains our ability to maintain the friendships that help counteract the consequences of isolation, causing us to lose motivation. Yet perhaps there’s still a way to recover a fulfilling sense of companionship.

In particular, it has been challenging to grapple with the drastic changes that have come to how I now interact with people. As the coronavirus outbreak gradually worsened last month, I had grown ready for the possibilities that classes would be moved online and we would have to move out. In a fit of uncharacteristic optimism, I for some reason assumed that things wouldn’t be too different—wasn’t a friend’s face over a webcam close enough to a friend’s face in-person? Clearly, the transition has not been so simple; the digital space in which we have been abruptly placed has new rules. Keeping our community alive is now critically a more active effort.

There is no question that it will be difficult to remain in touch with everyone. Having been sent all of our separate ways, we lose a place to meet our friends and exercise our common interests. However, this situation is also an opportunity to realize who your closest friends are, as I have discovered that my friendships can go beyond our physical separation. The good news is that these friendships have the best chance of lasting through continued social distancing. But make no mistake; it takes effort. Individual circumstances vary, but chances are that even a quick call once in a while will make it feel as if no time has passed when this crisis subsides and we all see each other again.

In the meantime, we have to start inventing new ways to interact with each other. I’ve never played video games with friends before, as I’ve always played games alone, using them to find some inner peace. As the stakes have changed, however, gaming has revealed itself to be valuable in helping me not only sustain my relationships but also evolve my own conception of friendship.

That being said, I’m sure many of us prefer life as it was before. Social distancing has made me realize that I haven’t spent enough time with my friends, but regret is unproductive. Especially as the coronavirus continues to threaten us on a more personal level, our potent existential fears can undermine even our most tenacious relationships. But as long as the people around me fight for the bonds that they’ve made in their time here, I will never cease to be impressed.

The author of this column is currently lying down in a state of motionless panic while staring at his Netflix queue. Attempts at revival are appreciated provided you stay at least 6 feet away. Please reach out to philip.jang@columbia.edu with quarantine activity suggestions. Kimchi Fridge runs on alternate Tuesdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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