"...I simply want to offer a slightly more hopeful view of things."instagram/studiohannahjoy

Just as our parents warned us, our lives have been taken over by screens. It didn’t happen in the manner expected, but the outcome has been more or less the same. Facetime and zoom calls have replaced face to face interactions, our Instagram pages know our latest life announcements before most of our friends do, and the recorded lectures we were always warned against are the best university has to offer us now. It’s certainly valuable to question whether or not this new way of living is worth paying nine grand a year for (or indeed more if you’re paying international fees or are an MPhil student like me). What it’s less valuable to do, however, is let these gripes define the way you look at your life here in Cambridge in its entirety.

“Whilst it might seem like quite an optimistic take, I’m inclined to think that moving online could make the time we spend offline more meaningful.”

When I say that Cambridge still has a lot to offer, I’m not saying that you should learn to love the zoom lectures, potential bouts of self-isolation, or anxiety-inducing ‘Asymptomatic Screening Programme’ emails. What I am saying is that sometimes, there’s little to be gained from constantly dwelling on these things. Though these ‘strange and uncertain times’ have been nothing short of catastrophic, perhaps moving forward they could offer us a fresh look at the habits, behaviours, and balances we were struggling to strike between work/life or friends/family long before most of us even knew what a coronavirus was. Whilst it might seem like quite an optimistic take, I’m inclined to think that moving online could make the time we spend offline more meaningful.


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During my past three years at Cambridge, I’ve found it easy to tell myself that the combination of a few nights at the college bar, some meals in the dining hall when I can’t be bothered to cook, and an assortment of below-par evenings in Cindies provides me with the social interaction I need to maintain a healthy work/life balance. But that’s just not the case. Of course I miss how easy it was to rock up to the bar on a Wednesday evening and get your weekly dose of intensive socialising, but part of me also understands that ‘easy’ doesn’t necessarily mean worthwhile. Nowadays, when I see my friends I put aside whole evenings, book ahead at restaurants we’ve been meaning to try out, and have proper conversations about our lives outside of the club smoking area. When I meet someone on my course who I click with I’ll go out of my way to strike up a chat in a breakout room, add them on Facebook, or perhaps even invite them out for a coffee sometime – something that fresher me would’ve found unthinkably shmoozy! Making an effort to put ourselves out there comes more naturally to some of us than others, and I’ve had my fair share of being the one who just couldn’t be bothered to stop and chat at the end of a lecture for fear of having to engage in too much social interaction. But I can’t coast anymore this year, and if I’m being honest I’m quite glad about that.

“I don’t want to minimise the mental health tolls of our increasing lack of in-person social interaction...”

Instead of passing the time with pleasantries and gossip we’re being forced to cultivate more meaningful connections, checking in not only with each other but also with ourselves. Because of the toll that hours in front of a laptop screen can take on our bodies, we feel the need for self-care now more than ever. When we’ve not exercised in a while we notice it. When we haven’t left our room in a few days, we feel the need to get out and about a bit more. When we find ourselves overworked and stuck in a rut, we might be more inclined to text a friend and ask them for a chat rather than accept it as a normal part of our stressful term-time lives. I don’t want to minimise the mental health tolls of our increasing lack of in-person social interaction, I simply want to offer a slightly more hopeful view of things. Perhaps this step online can constitute something of a step backwards, revealing how the unhealthy habits we’re missing didn’t give us the fulfilment that we thought they did.