What online school lacks

I’m currently in the 10th week of my fully online semester of school. Studying and taking classes from the comfort of my bedroom has its plus points. From a purely academic standpoint, it might even be better. Everyone is muted so you don’t have to worry about chatty groups sitting near you. Everyone’s camera is off so they can’t distract you and the only possible distraction you have is your computer or your phone, which are also present in physical lectures. It’s easier to ask questions in a lecture because using the Zoom chat is way less intimidating than raising your hand in a room of 200 people. I also save a ton of money because I don’t have to travel or eat out every day. Yet I just can’t help but feel that there’s something missing, and these tradeoffs aren’t worth it.

I chanced upon a video reflection of sorts by John Fish titled “The Mundanity of Online School“, and he really helped put into words what I’ve been feeling about my semester thus far. He mentioned that the digital world is simply unable to fully capture the richness of reality, it can only provide a compressed version of it. I have some pictures of the Great Ocean Road from my trip to Melbourne last year. They’re lovely to look at, but it’s not the same as actually being there and seeing it with my own eyes! The cool sea breeze, the smell of the sea, and the sound of the waves. These things are lost when the experience gets compressed into a picture.

Similarly, many seemingly insignificant aspects of physical classes get compressed when adopting an online format. In some lectures, all you get is the professor’s voice coupled with some slides. In most tutorials, everyone’s cameras are off, including the tutor’s! Most students prefer to use the Zoom chat rather than the mic. You might argue that this is essentially all you need to learn, everything else is secondary. But to me, it just feels so cold and dull. 10 weeks into school and I do not even know what my classmates look or sound like. I’ve never seen my tutors’ faces, just their names.

Human interaction is and should be an insanely rich experience. Beyond verbal speech, we communicate through body language, facial expressions and many more subconscious subtleties. These are the things that are compressed and lost in the digital medium, at least for now. And it’s these same things that give classes and lectures that human touch, which I think makes a world of difference. In fact, the classes I enjoy most are those which require us to turn on our cameras and participate actively. Maybe I’m just lonely.

Anyway, if like me, you’ve been beating yourself up about being lazy, unmotivated, or extremely bored, don’t be too hard on yourself. Online school is tough. It might not be the season to make new friends, so instead why not appreciate the friendships you currently have.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Happiness and the Hedonic Treadmill

The hedonic treadmill is defined as the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. It answers the question of why getting a pay raise does not necessarily make you happier. It might initially, but you’ll quickly go back to feeling the same shortly after. Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau explains it beautifully.

“Since these conveniences by becoming habitual had almost entirely ceased to be enjoyable, and at the same time degenerated into true needs, it became much more cruel to be deprived of them than to possess them was sweet, and men were unhappy to lose them without being happy to possess them.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

As our financial condition improves, we become more willing to spend and gradually our wants become our needs. While spending our hard-earned money on ourselves is totally fine, this leads to our happiness tapering off and returning to its baseline state. Money is just one example of the hedonic treadmill in our lives.

The hedonic treadmill seems to be something that hinders our pursuit of happiness, but is there a way around this? As I was pondering about this, I had an epiphany! Gratitude! Cliche, yes. But hear me out. If anything, I think the hedonic treadmill really cements the importance of gratitude.

Think back to where you were five or ten years ago, and from that perspective look at where you are now. You might notice that there are many things you have that you never did before. Think about how you would have felt back then if you had everything you have now. The old you would have been so delighted!

This is also why it’s important to begin our prayers with thanksgiving. Before we start asking for more, we should first take a step back and reflect on all that we have already been blessed with.

Gratitude might be the perfect counter to the hedonic treadmill, or perhaps it isn’t. Either way, the eternal question still stands: What is the key to happiness? I don’t presume to know the answer, but I’m just gonna continue experimenting and questioning things.

Gambler’s Fallacy

I discovered this today and realised that I too had fallen prey to this line of thinking. So, what is the Gambler’s Fallacy?

[…] Gambler’s Fallacy occurs when an individual erroneously believes that a certain random event is less likely or more likely, given a previous event or a series of events. This line of thinking is incorrect, since past events do not change the probability that certain events will occur in the future.


Let’s take a really basic example, coin flipping. Assume we’ve flipped a (fair) coin 5 times and we got heads for all 5 flips. One might then predict that there is a high chance that the next flip will be tails. Unfortunately this is incorrect, and it’s exactly what the Gambler’s Fallacy is. The probability of a coin flip is 50/50 for heads and tails. This doesn’t change even if we’ve gotten 5, 10 or 50 heads in a row. It doesn’t make it any more likely for the next flip to be tails.

An application in the investing world, and a misconception that I once held, is that overvalued stocks are bound to drop in price. That’s just not true. Sometimes, overvalued stocks can stay overvalued for an unexpectedly long time. Just because it has been overvalued for awhile, it does not make it any more likely for a drop in price soon.

*cough* NASDAQ *cough*