It’s 11:59am. I press pause on the recorded lecture from last term that I’m catching up on (it’s taken me nearly an hour to watch the first thirty minutes), and go into my laptop’s calendar. I dutifully click the midday Zoom link and sit back as the waiting room window appears. When I’m let in, I’ll always check I’m muted, just in case my dog decides to bark or a family member calls my name. A little under half of the attendees will turn their cameras on, a few rows of faces boxed into tiny Zoom squares, with bookshelves, beds or doorways behind them. The rest are just names, hidden observers.
This is the dilemma – my decision whether to turn on my camera is the main factor in my engagement with the next hour. When I’m feeling particularly motivated or confident, I’ll show my face, nod attentively, earnestly take notes. But, more likely, I’m sitting at my desk wearing my oldest, comfiest hoodie, hair tied up and glasses slipping down my nose. Camera stays off. Zoom has made me – and so many others – into a part-time attendee. I go to a lot more workshops, sessions and performances (not least because NSDF provides a rigorous timetable of them), but my participation risks declining with each one.
It goes beyond workshops, and even beyond NSDF, of course. Since theatre made its necessary shift online, I’ve struggled with my attention span during creative events or performances. I can’t watch a livestream or recorded show without looking at my phone every so often, or an online workshop without keeping Twitter open on the other tab. Even when I am absorbed, taking in every little detail or writing down every piece of advice, I can’t sustain it for long. I think it’s the product of a few factors – my bedroom isn’t quite the same venue as a theatre, and excessive screen time is the bane of everyone’s sanity and sleeping pattern. Most importantly, though, my mind starts to wander simply because it can – I wouldn’t dream of touching my phone during live theatre, but in my living room, when the performers can be paused and rewound, it’s frustratingly easy to let my gaze drift towards my Instagram feed.
Digital platforms have brought light to us during these dark times, but I’m craving a return to the analogue. Put me in a workshop room where I have to leave my phone at the door, or save me a seat in a darkened auditorium. The voiceover asking us to turn off all electronic devices can’t come soon enough.