This year proved once and for all: Screens are no substitute for real life

We learned, too, what it is we don’t want – a world utterly consumed by screens. Yes, we will maintain our smartphone addictions, and laptops and tablets will continue to consume much of our time inside our homes. The pandemic has boosted Zoom stock by 500%. For many of us, this has been 2020: one Zoom after another, human faces in little boxes. In the early months of the pandemic, there were Zoom birthday parties, Zoom cocktails, Zoom Easters and Zoom Passovers. The life we had lost needed to be approximated, as much as possible, by Zoomworld, forging connections and alleviating boredom.

After a while, I didn’t want to Zoom any more. I’m sure I wasn’t alone. Each drifting gaze, faulty connection, and wistful joke about the time we’d all be indoors at the bar again was a reminder of what I had lost. As the year drifted on and I tried to navigate a world with such conflicting public health guidance, friend meet-ups sporadically scheduled, I knew that I never wanted to endure another social interaction on a screen again. It was reality flattened and condensed, drained of what it should be. The longer I spoke to the distant, pixelated face in front of me, the more I remembered that this facsimile of my prior life wasn’t anything close to what I wanted.

Children had it worse. For years, tech maximalists had sold us a future of education-by-screen; why have physical classrooms at all? The internet offered unlimited possibility. Information was everywhere, easily summoned at a keystroke. Students of the 21st-century classroom would merely need lessons uploaded to their screens. A teacher only had to be a face trapped in a sleek tablet.