Please Turn Your Camera On

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Don’t you just hate when this happens?

Is there anything more lonely than sitting alone, stuck at home, staring at a black void of faceless, voiceless screens, with the teacher’s face the only one you see? You start to feel starved for social interaction, like there aren’t any other people in the world.

Does this sound familiar?

Does anyone else wonder why no one turns their camera on?

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of reasons people might not want to or be able to turn their cameras on. Maybe it’s your first period and you’re still half-asleep. You might be eating breakfast during class. Or perhaps your internet will be glitchy if you try to turn your camera on. Your computer might not have a webcam. Perhaps you’re attending class from a place where you’re not comfortable showing your background. Maybe you don’t want to stare at your face all day long. Or perhaps you’re totally not engaged and playing video games during class. I don’t condone it, but I get it.

But I also know that not everyone faces all of these challenges all of the time. I know this, because I’ve seen people turn on their cameras when the teacher pushes it. I’ve seen people record videos for Flipgrid, or turn on their cameras to show their work, or show us an excellent view of their ceiling for a few seconds.

I know that I, for one, am in a very privileged position where I totally could have my camera on all day, and sometimes I do. But when I’m in a class where no one else has their camera on, I don’t want to be the only one, so I don’t turn my camera on. From here, the cycle just repeats. When I talked to other people about this issue, this was one of the biggest concerns. No one wants to be the only one with their cameras on. And yet, everyone I talked to also wishes that more people did have their cameras on. Lyla Higgins, a junior at Shorecrest, said, “Because it’s hard to know why someone doesn’t have their camera on I don’t think [that] it should be required, but it would be nice if more people did have their cameras on though.”

Don’t you wish your Zoom meetings looked more like this?

If more people had their cameras on, it would increase social connection. It would keep people more focused and engaged. It would make our teachers feel like people were actually listening to them. And it would encourage other people to turn their cameras on, rippling the effects outward.

We’re stuck in a difficult situation. We want more people to have their cameras on, but we don’t want to force people to have their cameras on. We want the norm to become having cameras on, but we can’t get there if no one turns their cameras on because the current norm is having them off.

How can we break free from this cycle? To be honest, I don’t know. But I’m hoping that someone — anyone — will read this article and go turn their camera on in their next class. That kind of small change is what we need to make a difference.

So please, if you’re reading this, take a risk. Turn your camera on. It might make your class a more welcoming place.