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  • Christina Watts

Dystopian Socialising and Online Uni in Lockdown 2.0

The strangest thing about this return to lockdown is that this time we know what to expect. The first-time round, we were all so blasé about it. “It’ll only last two weeks!” …we chimed armed with our banana bread recipes, that book we had always wanted to read and the attitude then towards staying at home was that it would be a good thing, for those in a safe position to do so.

Fortunately, this time round we know better. We have an acute understanding about the impacts of social isolation on ourselves and those around us, and its effects on our mental health as a society.

Just before the second wave, it was the start of a new academic year and I’d be returning to a very different university town to the one I’d left. A city-wide lockdown was being enforced. Pubs, restaurants and clubs were all closed by 10pm, masks were to be worn everywhere (rightly so), and a general feeling of unease hung over the city. A week into the local lockdown, the news of halls in Manchester Metropolitan University having to quarantine hundreds of its students made us even more anxious than before. It was a stark reminder that the virus was still here, and we needed to be extra-careful about where we went, whether or not to use public transport and if we should brave the library.

Student life for one is so much quieter, being isolated in our household has meant that we’ve become very close very quickly. Which may not have been the case if life had been able to resume as before. Nights out and socials have been replaced with walks in our local park, movie nights and cooking together. It’s the new normal.

We attended a socially distanced pub quiz and one of the prizes was a sympathy card; the quiz master joked “Well the way this year is going you’ll probably end up needing it!”. This was met with raucous laughter; we were all so desperate to be able to find some humour in this very strange situation.

It isn’t looking as though things will be returning to pre-Covid normalcy any time soon either with reports by experts stating that to avoid serious outbreaks universities will need to be “two thirds empty” to prevent spikes (The Guardian, 2020). Which means rammed lecture halls and a pint after a seminar with your course mates potentially is going to be a thing of the past; at least for the time being.

Library spaces have to be booked well in advance, all social spaces have been removed, a mask must be worn at all times and you’re discouraged from consuming food or drink whilst working. Zoom classes and breakout rooms have become our social outlet, witnessing our peers in little rectangular boxes- feeling strangely connected in the most dystopian of senses.

Adversely however, for some, including myself, the shift from in person to online learning has actually been beneficial. It feels as though the pace of life has slowed down, if I wake up late for a lecture- gone are the days of having to hastily rush out the door and turn up a sweaty and stressed mess. Now I can just drag a comb through my hair, pull a jumper over my pyjamas and that’s it! I’m ready to learn and I’m protecting others by staying home.

In a time characterised by isolation, fear, job losses and uncertainty; being able to attend a lecture in my pyjamas is a small win. Considering these uncertain times that we’re all living in, I’ll take it.

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