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All it took for me to appreciate UMBC was a pandemic

I never thought I would miss staring at the back of people’s heads for an hour and fifteen minutes, but right now, I would give anything to be in a University of Maryland, Baltimore County classroom. It turns out I took a lot for granted before I experienced the fallout of a pandemic.

As a psychology and media and communications studies dual degree student, I’ve discussed how technology impacts attention spans more times than I’ve dodged geese droppings by the library pond. As recently as February, I scoffed while my professors told me that multitasking isn’t real and that technology distracts people in the classroom. I rolled my eyes impatiently. I figured I knew all of this already.

Smash cut to today. It turns out I wasn’t impervious to the pressures of the multitasking world and the constant desire for stimulus. My screen time is eye-destroyingly high (thanks TikTok), and I have all but given over my life to technology.

I used to be a king of productivity and focus. One of my favorite stories from college involves pulling an all-nighter to complete an essay and project, focusing and participating in class during the day, then cramming for three hours for an exam that I aced within a half-hour, only to almost immediately have to go to a rehearsal for my acappella group.

Now, completing assignments feels torturous, and I spend half of my class worried that I’ll forget to mute myself one of the many times I audibly question why I still have to be in school. And now that I’ve lived through so much, I’m ready to pack it in at twenty years old. When I can go outside, I’d like to retire in Fiji. 

I have to play lectures at 1.5 times the normal speed just to stay focused, and even saying that I skim readings is too generous sometimes. I feel the judgments of Netflix every time the “Are you still watching?” sign pops up. Yes, I am still watching. And what of it?

As someone who accidentally signed up for an online class two years ago, I thought I was well equipped for this transition. I told myself I had handled things well before and after all I had gotten an A. I had conveniently blocked out the time I forgot to complete an entire unit my freshman year, but reality shattered my denial pretty quickly, as usual.

But all is not lost for me. I finished the novella I started last year, and have taken up Portuguese while maintaining my Spanish. My family is safe so far. I’m learning to appreciate things and not to take things for granted. Not because celebrities tell me to from their mansions, but because things, for me, could be a lot worse. 

I try to remember that when I get my three hundredth email of the day, reminding me that the work, unlike hugs and handshakes, has not disappeared. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that whenever we are back on campus and I have to trek from my apartment to class, I’ll swear and moan just as much as I used to. But a part of me will know that Hilltop Circle is a paradise compared to the four walls of my childhood bedroom.