My last five months can be simply summarized as a 13-inch illuminated screen.
Adapting to the new normal with COVID-19 has been drastically different for every one of us and, although there have been many changes for me, the most notable one is my screen time.
Every day, I am in awe of how well we can connect as a world through screens. I first feel it as I scroll through social media in bed in the morning and catch up with friends across the world who are ready to go to sleep. I hear the Zoom doorbell sound around 60 times as students log in to the summer physics class I am taking, and their smiles at 8:30am wake me up. I feel connected to the world as I listen to podcasts, lectures, or attend random virtual events that are now open to the public. Although I am slowly becoming more acquainted with this digital lifestyle, I am still learning how to make it work best for me. So with the online fall semester approaching, how am I adapting?
1. Acknowledging that it's different
Back in March, I tried to convince myself that I could replicate my in-person lifestyle and relationships in this primarily online world. I quickly realized that it is not quite the same, but that is okay. Whether it is taking a meal to-go at a restaurant, not knowing if the cashier at the grocery store got my joke or not without seeing their facial expression, or taking an entirely online summer class, it has been different. Yet I have found so much good in this difference.
Being screen-bound means connecting with people from different parts of the world, attending events with a click of a mouse instead of endless hours of flying, and turning my kitchen into a part-time lab for my physics class. I never thought a bag of rice I bought to make my favorite Palestinian dish –– or my attempt to make it — would come in handy for my experiment. I was trying to slide blocks down a ramp, a setup that can be easily secured in place in a physics lab, but because I had to make do from home, my bag of rice came to the rescue. On other days, my pan worked perfectly for making eggs in the morning and had a part-time job holding my spring as I measured the effect of different masses attached to it. Every time I finished my experiment for the week, I realized that I learned significantly more than what the in-person equivalent had taught me in the past, because I had to think more about ways to make what was available work for me.
Change is mysterious and scary, but this specific mystery has proven to be quite exciting and full of opportunities––that is, if we don't fret about our new reality.
My takeaway: look for the good in this change; there is a lot!
2. Health comes first
I have always, consciously and subconsciously, thought of health in my daily life in terms of handwashing, coughing into my sleeve, and other such individual measures. However, public health and safety is the main difference that this time has emphasized for me. My approach to my health affects everyone around me and knowing that taking care of my health and safety is top priority during this time is vital.
Previously, if I felt that I might be getting sick, I would sometimes go on with my day hoping I could beat it. In this new digital world, I must stop, take a breath, and remember that nothing precedes my health- and the effect it can have on the people around me. There is no use in going out of my way to accomplish something, go somewhere, or do anything if I am not healthy. The scale of this pandemic constantly reminds me that people around the world understand this, and in this collective insight, we find strength in community.
From Wuhan to Washington, people everywhere have realized that individual choices impact the community––for better and for worse.
My takeaway: as long as my loved ones and I are healthy and safe, there is nothing I am missing that will not be waiting when this is past us.
3. Perspective is everything
There have been so many new opportunities surrounding me if I stop worrying long enough to see them. Initially, my goal was to take a break, and I enjoyed that for a while. I stepped back, caught up on reading I had put off before, and downsized my closet. The most challenging part then became finding a new hobby to keep me on my toes, but right now, I am addicted to podcasts and cooking! I am constantly calling my parents for recipes and tips on meals I grew up eating- or I am looking up new ideas. Below are some of my attempts that taste better than they look (maybe). I call them attempts because they are not quite what I was trying to make but they also didn't burn down the kitchen!
Developing a new study strategy was a must. I rotate from my desk to the couch to a patch of grass in Harvard Yard. I am on a mission to find the coolest real-life Zoom backgrounds for my class meetings as I'm starting to run out of fun virtual ones!
The smallest changes can have drastic effects: helping with chores around the house, spending time on things you enjoy, or dropping activities with which you are no longer content. For me, staying on top of my laundry pile has made all the difference!
My takeaway: take time to think about where you are and what you might want to change in your daily life, if anything.
The only thing many of us have in common during this period is this new digital normal. It's important to remember that what works for others might not work for you, and that's okay. The entire world is in the same boat, and we are all learning how to steer it together.