Illustration by Emma Ruck
Before she began her online classes, Medill freshman Jenny She said she used to wake up, practice yoga, meditate and then get ready for her day. Now, after staying up into the early hours of the morning working on her laptop, she forgoes the yoga. She wakes up, rolls out of bed and clicks her camera on.
As Northwestern reaches the halfway point of a remote Fall Quarter, She, like other students, is getting used to new routines that involve staring at a screen for hours at a time. This pattern induces what many call “Zoom fatigue” — exhaustion from blue light and remote interactions.
Medill sophomore Jack Izzo said his schedule includes one three-hour Zoom lecture, as well as another online class that runs from 1-6 p.m. once a week.
“It’s just this overwhelming sense of exhaustion, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg,” Izzo said.
As classes, homework and clubs run entirely online, undergraduate screen time feels like a 24/7 commitment, Medill freshman Isabella Costa said. Even if she’s not actively on a Zoom call, Costa said her learning happens exclusively online — Canvas and Google Docs absorb her studying time.
This increase in screen use has led Costa to rely on an additional essential school supply: eye drops. With dry, painful eyes and chronic headaches, Costa always keeps her eye drops on hand.
For international students like She, who lives in Guangzhou, China, Zoom fatigue is compounded by a more than 12-hour time difference from her Evanston classmates and professors. Many of She’s classes start at 11 p.m. She said her days don’t typically end until 2:30 a.m.
“I now have gotten used to it,” She said. “It’s better. But when (the quarter) started, I got really tired. And it was hard for me to concentrate during classes… my eyes get really tired and weary, and I just kept wanting to fall asleep.”
But Izzo said he’s not sure he’ll ever get used to online school. He said he feels Zoom calls are “unnecessarily exhausting” and “more mentally draining than they have any right to be.”
Costa said her fatigue stems from a combination of excess screen time and her “new pandemic way of living,” confined to the four walls of her bedroom in her family’s apartment. She said she’s walking her dog and incorporating a fitness routine to cope, but still finds the situation difficult.
“For the first week of school, I was so nervous and overwhelmed,” Costa said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t leave the same space for seven days. This is a problem.’”
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