By Josh Leichter
As a fan of Westworld, I never thought that my life would come to resemble that of the robots in the park. I wake up at the same time every morning to the same alarm sound before performing the same routine and then sitting myself down in front of a computer to eagerly attend classes behind hooded eyes, Sleep still a familiar cloak wrapped around me. It usually takes until midday before this garment falls off, yet by the time classes end for the day at either 2:45 p.m. or 6:15 p.m., I’m ready to put it back on and return to the Land of Nod, only to wake up within this simulation the following day.
It’s a strange new reality we find ourselves in, one of bandwidth and bytes, where our classrooms tend to be the same chair and our classmates are muffled or distorted by microphones and webcams. And the real struggle hasn’t even begun yet. This of course being how one is supposed to pass the time living within these state-mandated quarantines. The blissful thump of the Netflix logo beating out of my speakers would have once brought a sense of excitement, yet like a child eating too much ice cream or a drug addict taking one too many hits, it’s no longer as exciting as it once was. It took a week to learn that there are only so many episodes of television one can watch before their eyes start to glaze over and brains begin to leak out of their ears. After all, glazed eyes are best saved for four-hour-long repeated Zoom sessions with our professors, forcing ourselves to feign greater interest in classes we were already struggling to follow along with when sitting in uncomfortable, yet now missed, wooden desks.
After this growing frustration at all forms of technology, a desire has grown within me for human contact that I once chagrined or bristled at. It’s during this time that I have realized what those simple things that I so often took for granted really are. The beauty of a phone call with a friend, once tedious or deemed impractical, is now a respite from video chatting. Not that I don’t want to see my friends, but to listen to disembodied voices has now become a refreshing change from FaceTiming or Zooming. These phone calls, however long they tend to be, are also a way for me to rest my eyes from the glowing LED screen that I am chained to like a prisoner serving out the remainder of this semester.
How else have I been spending this time in my imposed hermitage? I keep a journal of my wandering thoughts or creative inspirations. Like Crusoe on his island, I handwrite pages in a leather-bound book, counting down the days and committing to record the pendulum of either loving or hating this new experience. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we are currently forced to view and partake in, like some sort of warped sociology experiment from the basement of Stamford University or what Alex DeLarge endured in A Clockwork Orange. But even those had a definitive end to them, while this current predicament seems likely to go on ad infinitum.
And as the well of the Netflix library begins to run dry and ink covers each page of our respective books, the question we ask is almost a parody of those previously raised in the Great American consciousness: where do we go from here? When do we finally rest after these aforementioned reservoirs of media content are emptied and productions have all been shut down? Of course those who are much older would have told us to go outside and get some fresh air, yet when fighting an unseen enemy that exists in our backyards or out on city streets, there is nowhere to go and there is no answer to this question.
Instead, we must continue to remember that this threat is not one that we can wait away on our own. To social distance is not to isolate. It should be an opportunity for us to reconnect on human levels that we often let fall to the wayside within the doldrums of the ever-moving cities we live in. Take this time to call that friend you’ve been meaning to chat with, read that book that has gathered dust but the cover still looks as vibrant as the first time you saw it at Barnes and Noble, or to put together those puzzles you always said you’d finish. Because at the end of the day, we’re still as big as we ever were — it’s the pictures of our lives that got smaller. Yet let’s take this time to reevaluate and polish the lenses of our cameras so that when we finally exit our caves, we see our worlds grow anew.