Student has life-altering epiphany in the complete silence of a Zoom breakout group

What one Zoom call revealed to a student staring deep within the reflection of a black box

Photo: Nikita Kachanovsky / Unsplash

By: Zedd Strangelove, SFU Student

Quarantine was in full swing, and due to my own poor choices, my classes were, too. The beginning of online lectures were rough enough with my HBO subscription providing me a 34-minute attention span. Three hour online lectures were the perfect time to binge-watch my remaining brain cells away. About halfway through an episode, I flip the window on my laptop back to the Zoom meeting. To my unpleasant surprise, there lay the face of my scowling professor staring at me. I then notice I’m the only person left in the main meeting. Uh oh . . . 

“Where have you been? I’ve been trying to get you to go into your breakout room for the past few minutes?” muttered my clearly thrilled professor.

“Oh? Sorry about that. I think I was having some connection issues.” I knew that wasn’t true, and so did my prof, but neither of us had the energy to pursue the topic. She sighed and told me to join the group, and so I did. But I did not realize what was to come. 

I joined the breakout group as I would any other Zoom call: video turned off, voice muted. The screen loads and I see the other three group members. My classmates appear to stare at me, though I know their eyes only linger on their screens in search for something to pass the time — as long as it’s anything but speaking aloud about the discussion question. 

I watch one of them order a bulk pack of Fruit of the Loom underwear on Amazon through the reflection in their glasses. Another is browsing the Tinder meat market, swiping right at an unholy pace. They’re shopping in bulk. The last one seems very rather disappointed by the rest of us, but still isn’t saying anything at all.

I stare into the four soul-sucking windows on my screen in deep introspection. Usually I’m not one for dwelling on such deep thoughts at 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, but the alternative was talking about Jane Austen, so the choice was rather obvious. 

I honed in on each of my classmates, each as an ingredient in the overall sandwich that is quarantined online classes. The whole image was unappetizing overall, like an egg salad sandwich stuffed with sardines left on the floor in the middle of the AQ for a few days. Stepped on by Air Force 1s, briefly examined by a Beedie student doing a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not they should eat it, and then left rejected on the floor, the four of us sat in silence for what seemed like hours. The only sounds that broke the quiet were our melancholic mutters of agreement to the one student who insisted on typing out a mini thesis to the discussion question in the chat box.

Together we created a monstrosity of a sandwich that should not have existed in the first place. And indeed, it did not truly exist. It was a metaphorical sandwich of the mind, the only physical trace being the toxicity lingering on my breath. 

There I was, more self-aware than ever. 

I checked the time. Only five minutes had passed. As I blinked my eyes, my classmates dissolved and my professor was on my screen again. This time the scowl had deepened.

“So are you going to join the breakout room or not?”

I didn’t respond, and just slowly hovered the mouse over the disconnect button. I cherished the feeling that came with my sweet release from the class. I don’t think I’ll learn much this semester, but what I’ve already learned is just how dangerous day drinking can be.