“The Pros and Cons of a Virtual Existence” by Erin Jackson

“The Pros and Cons of a Virtual Existence” by Erin Jackson

Keeping in touch with people when they’re not in the same room as me has never been my strong suit. As a senior, I was already worried about maintaining long-distance relationships with the people who have been walking distance from me for the past four years. Now that our time together has come to a screeching halt months earlier than planned, I am at a loss for how to salvage these friendships, some that were just beginning to grow. However, with one text from my roommate, I began to think hope might not all be lost.

Freshman year, my roommates and I stuck around for winter session. Along with some other scattered friends throughout our floor and others in Redding, we got caught up in an epidemic of our own creation: an obsession with Words with Friends. I don’t remember how it started or how it ended, but I can clearly picture drawn out meals in Kent dining hall, sitting across from friends who became my virtual opponents. Meals would last hours as we got caught up competing for the longest word, while making every effort to block the triple word spaces that could be used against us. One game per friend wasn’t enough either. We each easily had two or three games between us at a time, and we would immediately begin a rematch each time a game ended. The individual games were impossible to keep track of, making it hard to remember who won and who lost. The perfect combination of luck, strategy, and skill, Words with Friends kept our minds sharp as we procrastinated those long winter days away.

Like I said, I don’t know how it ended, but in the past three years since that first winter session, I haven’t even thought about the game. In fact, when my roommate texted me in the first week of the quarantine, asking me if I wanted to start up the addiction once more, I had to redownload the app. What started as a friendly game between my roommate and me took on the same momentum it did our freshman year. As the games and opponents started to increase exponentially, spreading contagiously throughout households and across state borders, the expectations kept rising. While ten and twenty-point words were acceptable at the beginning, I now find it hard to settle for anything less than thirty. There’s a sort of excitement that comes with breaking forty, fifty, sixty points, accompanied with not seeing your opponent in person but feeling them exact their revenge in a torrent of tiles overlapping with your own.

While Words with Friends has been a great distraction from the crazy reality of the present, it cannot cure everything that has been lost as a result of this pandemic. While the University has prioritized transitioning classes to an online format, extracurriculars have managed to slip through the cracks of this virtual school platform. Teachers still have grades that they can use as a carrot to keep students engaged or at least get them to show up. Clubs and other student organizations, however, don’t have the same influence. A lot of these extra activities are what keep students motivated to get through their classwork, but without that incentive, the school days drag on. While it is nice to be able to pause your professor in pre-recorded lectures and actually take notes in classes where this was previously impossible, how long will this be the norm? Some elementary schools are already deciding that their fall courses will likely be moved online as well, presenting no foreseeable end to this new way of life.

The thing with a global pandemic is that everyone stands to lose something. In the University of Delaware community, the group I feel most sorry for is the Class of 2020, my own graduating class that won’t have a graduation. If the choice is between an online graduation now, or a real one a year from now, what would you choose? I don’t think I realized how much graduation meant to me until it was taken away. And I’m not talking about the big commencement where all 4,382 of us get together at the stadium. I want my college of agriculture graduation, where I am actually sitting with my peers and watching them walk across the stage and shake hands with faculty they know and love. I want my Honors graduation where my freshman floor can get together and reminisce about how stupid our worries were back when we all had each other just down the hall. I want to take cheesy pictures in front of Memorial and jump in the fountain and pop champagne bottles over the green. I didn’t want to want any of that stuff, but given the option, I’d choose it ten times out of ten.

And then I remember that while I’m at home playing Words with Friends, people around the world, around the country, and in my home state are dying or losing loved ones. Doctors and nurses and countless others are at work, which in this day and age is equivalent to the battlefield. In the long run, I haven’t really sacrificed much of anything. While that fact doesn’t invalidate how I feel, I recognize the bigger picture of this pandemic, and I will continue fighting it as I know how—from home. I will log on to Zoom every day to go to class. I will meet up with my freshman floor virtually and have the nostalgic moments we’ve all been craving. I will walk across a virtual graduation stage, whatever that ends up looking like. I will read the mass influx of emails streaming into my inbox every day, and I will fill out every survey that comes my way. I will keep in touch better than I ever have before because I have to. I will win Words with Friends, and I will lose Words with Friends.

And in between all of that, I am going to try to get outside because all of this screen time is driving me crazy. But I know that it could be much, much worse.

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