Zoom Doom

What’s the worst that could happen in online school? Turns out everything.

With twitchy hands and clothes soaked with sweat, you realize you’re trapped with no chance of escape. You observe the looks of horror on the pixelated faces of all 20 participants as your professor’s moving mouth feels more and more like a gaping black hole. Why did you ever think taking classes online would be a breeze?

With the students’ and professors’ differing levels of proficiency surrounding technology, it appears Zoom was cursed from the start, providing horrifying and awkward experiences that read more like a Goosebumps tale than a 90-minute lecture. But with days melting into each other like ice cream on a hot day, you have to value any kind of entertainment. So, here are just a few scenarios relatable and frightening enough to zap copious amounts of adrenaline into your sleep-deprived brain. If you’ve been neglecting exercise, just know that nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a little Zoom doom.

The Haunting of the Zoom Password

When my economics professor mentioned that our future classes would require a log-in password, I shrugged at the email and went about my day.

“What could go wrong with punching in a password?” I blithely thought, naive as a springtime lamb.

When next Tuesday came around, I logged onto Zoom before class started and typed the password into the pop-up window.

“Password error. Please try again.”

I re-entered the password, a little confused. The same ominous red text glinted across my screen.

I tried again. And again. And again.

“Password error. Please try again.”

At this point, I was a little panicky since class had already started, and I sent an email to my TAs to make sure my password was correct.

They suggested that I restart my computer, join the class from Canvas/my Zoom profile/the Calendar section on Canvas, and even shared a link for me to join.

Nothing worked. Zoom asked me again and again and again what my password was with increasing venom. To understand the amount of tension in the room, revisit that scene in Twilight where Edward eggs on Bella to call out he’s a bloodsucker, but she just can’t spit the word out as the camera Zooms (pun intended) in on her blank face. The cinematic parallels. My mind was as empty as Bella’s (and Kristen Stewart’s acting).

Finally, like a proper horror movie protagonist in the final act, I finally managed to remember to log in again from the official Northwestern Zoom site. I was 30 minutes into (missing) the lecture; the world loomed over me. Shakily, I entered the password that I had typed time and time again for the past half-hour, punching in every digit with a vague sense of vertigo and defeat.

Like an answer from above, my tired face popped up, and Zoom asked me if I wanted to join in with computer audio.

One of the TAs sent me a message of congratulations for making it, like I just escaped the worst traffic of all time. I sent him back a weak thank you and turned my camera off for some deep, relaxing breaths.

One of the TAs sent me a message of congratulations for making it, like I just escaped the worst traffic of all time. I sent him back a weak thank you and turned my camera off for some deep, relaxing breaths.

A Quiet Place II - Tough Coughs

Before class started, I was reminded via email from every one of my professors to turn off my microphone to keep the distracting noises to a minimum. I get it. You don’t want to hear me awkwardly swallowing my latte, and I don’t want to hear other people slurping down their Cinnamon Toast Crunch somewhere across the globe. It’s a win-win.

That’s why, on the first day of class, I was surprised when a clear cough reverberated through the 100-something participant chatroom. Confusion, surprise and fear flashed across my fellow peers’ faces — like how a group in a horror movie would react when the friend to die first suddenly sneezes. Here we are, all properly quiet, doing sign language a la A Quiet Place to our lecturer that yes, we can hear them, when our silence was abruptly shattered.

I scrolled to see the culprit’s face. One of the instructors had their microphone on, despite not being that lecture’s speaker. Everyone chalked it up to technical difficulties.

However, since then, with the unparalleled determination of a cartoon villain, the same instructor has coughed in every one of the following lectures. No matter how engulfed in the lecture or distracted I become, the same cough greets me. Sometimes it’s louder. Sometimes it goes on for a little bit. But it’s always there, like the warm smile of a reliable friend. Honestly, knee-deep into this quarantine, that dry, timely cough is the only thing that keeps me grounded.

Breakout in Cold Sweat

I’ve never been to an escape room, but I imagine the experience is similar to getting stuck in a breakout room.

The awkward silence. The “Oh-I-really-don’t-want-to-make-small-talk-but-it’s-rude-to-turn-camera-off.” You’re in front of a computer screen, but the air is thinning out like you’re trapped at the bottom of a well. You are not sure if the other person is making that noise because of you or their screen (and you really don’t want to know), and you really have to go to the bathroom like, now.

One time, I had to sit in a breakout room while my professor had a one-on-one conference with each of us in the main room. The first 10 minutes passed with deceiving peacefulness. We made small talk and eye contact. We smiled with our teeth at each other, signaling our mutual appreciation to be here, out of all places, right now.

Then the half-hour hit. The eyebrows started twitching. The hands migrated from our faces to the hidden digital devices in our laps or our computer keyboard. The realization dawned on us: we are going to be here for a while, aren’t we? Oh, god.

An hour ticked by. The breakout room started to feel like one of those precisely manipulated Saw set-ups that was meant to extract the most painful amount of awkwardness out of the situation. I could even hear my classmates breathing at one point (and I’m sure they heard mine).

With Zoom carefully capturing all our facial expressions like security cameras, I didn’t have the heart to do anything else. This sort of uncalled-for ASMR does not trigger a single tingle in my mushy brain. Never again, please.