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Normalize awkward Zoom calls

<h6>Photo Credit: Jason Johnston / <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/150479708@N08/30943872804/in/photostream/" target="_self">Flickr</a></h6>
Photo Credit: Jason Johnston / Flickr

When I submitted my Princeton application in late December, little did I expect my freshman year to start in this manner. As I braced myself for the first day of classes, I was not sure what to expect. The already present “new person” feelings were now mixed with the wide array of emotions that came with “Zoom University.” I’ll admit, I was a mess.

Three weeks later, zooming into classes and meetings with classmates and friends has become the norm. In fact, I’m sure all of us are at the point where we can call ourselves Zoom experts. And as self-proclaimed Zoom experts, there is nothing more cringe-worthy, nerve-wrenching and hair-raising than being in a Zoom call with new people and the conversation taking a turn toward awkward silence.

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As someone who is inclined to keep the conversation going and absolutely hates unfilled silences, trying to adapt to those moments where it seems like I have nothing else to say has been as challenging as my classes have been. On one hand, I don’t want to make it seem as if I am taking up too much space, but on the other hand, I will then be stuck with this endless silence. Some of my friends and classmates have also found this issue and say that they too try to fill up the awkward silence. A good number even shy away from optional Zoom calls for fear of this silence.

Why do we have awkward silences in the first place? Usually, it is because either you or people you are talking to have run out of the initial pleasantries that we usually start calls with: the “how are you doing?” and “tell me about yourself.” In my personal experience, I have noticed that most of my awkward silences are in large part because I have not found a common interest or connected with the person yet. After those pleasantries, I really can’t find anything else to say. These moments make me agree with my friends who don’t go to non-mandatory Zoom calls; after all, nobody wants to voluntarily place themselves in an awkward situation.

However, it is important to consider what we might be losing if we don’t put ourselves out there. Being in this new online world has certain pros: you meet people you might not have otherwise run into or started a conversation with in-person. This detail might seem trivial at first, but let’s take a moment to appreciate this.

The easiest way to appreciate this is to use the analogy of playing cards. Before, we (the cards) were all sorted into nice piles and we knew what our piles contained and where to go next. The coronavirus is the dog or the toddler you tried hiding these neatly arranged cards from, but they have finally reached the very top of the shelf where you hid your cards and have destroyed its orderliness. And here we are now, all shuffled and out of order. Within this disorder, however, we are discovering other cards we have never seen or known before.

As we try recouping back to our orderliness, we bring elements of these different interactions with us. Our own personal communities will never be the same again. We are becoming more aware of how we can amplify values like diversity and inclusion, and it all starts from just a simple conversation with someone new.

Zoom awkwardness is an implicit part of moving our lives virtual. It cannot be changed, but in the meantime, why not use this opportunity to change the way we think?

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This is not the age to shy away from those awkward Zoom conversations. Part of our exploration comes from how we approach these situations and make the best of them. Think of it as a hurdle to jump through to partake in this remodeling of yourself and your ideas. Let’s put ourselves out there and discover all those people and stories we would not have had the opportunity to otherwise. 

We are in a transformative era and our societies and communities will never be the same ever again. We are becoming more open-minded and realizing the value of all those hugs and high-fives we took for granted.

So, go ahead, embrace those awkward Zoom calls. They may not lead to anything, or they may open a door to something you might not have considered before. And soon enough, we can get back on campus and go back to being awkward in person!

Alaina Joby is a first-year from Los Angeles, Calif. She can be reached at ajoby@princeton.edu or a semi-awkward Zoom meeting.

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