A logistical limitation I faced during the summer school was back ache. Being in my chair at the living room table this long took its toll. It took its toll on the eyes as well. Virtual lectures do not allow for 20 minute eye breaks. However the organisers of the summer school catered to almost every issue we had. Our coffee breaks took the form of ‘active coffee breaks’, in which we could opt into group yoga. I made sure to take off my glasses and not spend my break times on my other screen, my mobile. Instead, I began going outside and taking deep breaths. Rolling my shoulders backward and touching my toes. Flexing a crab if I was feeling extra stiff.
Another difficulty about my workspace was finding a quiet space. This was an issue I faced before submitting my university final assignments too. The space where I can get a good wifi connection in my house is also a communal space, so I had to work extra hard to stay focused. However, all of the participants shared this obstacle, and we soon grew used to seeing pets walk past our webcams. Hana has a bird. Victoria and Joaquin have cats. I was also temporarily kitten-sitting three little fury friends mid-way through the course. Their names are Earl, Rae and Millificent. They each took their turns to grace my screen from time to time.
And another thing – I thought I might be out of my depth with some of these lectures. Lots of the other participants studied law or business for their undergrad degree. Moritz, Marina and Victoria were super accommodating. The participants agreed to a code of conduct for everyone’s safety. None of the lectures were recorded so that it was as close as possible to the real thing. But also so that everyone felt comfortable chipping into discussions.
Like in real lectures and seminars, I felt myself tensing up at the Q&A sections throughout the two weeks. And yet, I feel as if I had a better input than if it took place in person. The same way that I feel about the last part of the academic year that took place via Zoom. I think there is a reason for this. To put my observation into context, I’m using blindness as a metaphor. When a person (or animal) loses a sense, for example their sight, the other senses sharpen. Similarly, when I am in a Zoom-lecture, I lose my physical presence. Usually I can rely on my physical presence for my existence to be acknowledged. However, when that ceases to exist, I only have my voice. In Zoom, my face enlarges when I speak. When I am silent I fade back into the grid of faces – depending on which setting each participant has their screen set to.
Some of the lecturers had found the same results in their move-to-online-teaching during the pandemic too. They found that there was more participation in Zoom lectures. This brings me to the question: does the web give introverts a better chance? According to Carl Jung, an ‘introvert’ is a person with a tendency to be more focused on their subjective self. An extroverted person is the type of person who is more focused on the objects that surround them – their exterior.
Lots of our actions that involve engaging with the outside world release dopamine. This is associated with pleasure. Solitary activities that require focus and concentration tend to release a chemical called acetylcholine. Some scientists argue that some of us are hyper-sensitive to dopamine. Those people are introverts. These brains prefer acetylcholine.
Our world typically rewards extroversion. Big personalities tend to win big rewards. Popularity. Opinion. These people are listened to. The three kittens I mentioned earlier make up a perfect case study for the spectrum of introversion and extroversion. Rae, is 100% an extrovert. She is happy sitting on my lap morning, noon and night. If I go into a room and close the door she awaits my return. When she can, she even joins in my Zoom meetings to get her extra hit of dopamine. Millificent, on the other hand, is wholeheartedly an introvert. She enjoys eating alone, and exploring alone. Sometimes I encourage her to interact more. I relate to her the most and I know she must learn to interact – for example at meal times. Earl can do both – where food is concerned he can socialise. But he’s just as happy by himself at the top of his new cat tree.
Social media, and platforms with a professional purpose allow us to connect without really engaging. When a group of people are put together, one usually emerges as a leader. Usually there is someone who becomes withdrawn. On social media or in a digital environment, it often works best to get straight to the point. Say your point concisely to avoid miscommunication. Extroverts are happy conversating. Introverts – not so much. In the context of online communication that is an advantage. Now we find ourselves in a global health pandemic. Depending on where you are, lockdown might be beginning to lift. It likely means you’re communicating online a lot more. We are all communicating a lot more anyway, due to the internet.
If we want to survive and prosper in our digital world, we have to learn to become digitally literate citizens.