Zoom

Chris Poon

“The Building circular – an iron cage, glazed – a glass lantern about the size of Ranelagh – The
Prisoners in their Cells, occupying the Circumference – The Officers, the Centre. By Blinds, and
other contrivances, the Inspectors concealed from the observation of the Prisoners: hence the
sentiment of a sort of invisible omnipresence. – The whole circuit reviewable with little, or, if necessary, without any, change of place.”

 

— Jeremy Bentham (1791). Panopticon, or The Inspection House


8:00 AM. The alarm clock wails, begs, screeches. I wake up. I try to wake up. Swaddled
inside a nest of blankets, I roll to my left, then my right, trying to overcome the heavy sloth. The
warmth. But all the jostling accomplishes is finding a more comfortable position for me to
snuggle in. I melt into the mattress. Sinking. Drifting. Into a luxurious, decadent soup. Cream of
mushroom. Into a tub of butter. I am butter. The summer was blazing, but once September hit the
nights went frigid, the mornings a freezing ordeal. It was as if the month had punched the sun in
the gut—all of its heat expelled and dissipated into the hollow blackness of space. Let’s see.
What day is it supposed to be today? Monday? Thank god it’s not Monday. Wait. I had
philosophy and multi yesterday…so yesterday was Tuesday…so today’s Wednesday. Guh—I
hate Wednesdays. Stupid 8:30s. Stupid econ lectures. I don’t wanna go. What time is it
anyways? I turn to the alarm, still ringing away. Oh 8:27. Ok. Blink. Huh? 8:27? 8:27 AM? Shit.
Nearly bashing my head into the ceiling, I jolt out of bed. Emerging from my shell like
Aphrodite. Without the beauty or the grace. I leap to my computer chair and flip my laptop on.
Luckily, it was only in sleep mode. If I had shut it down last night, it would take at least five
minutes to start back up. I hammer my password into the keyboard, press enter, minimize the
quarter-written quarter-crapped essay on Durkheim and Ritual Norms: The Sacred versus The
Profane, close out of whatever was brewing in that chapter of Multivariable Calculus, 6 th

Edition, Johnson & Stevens, fish out the zoom link to the econ lecture. Click. A loading circle.
That spinning hex. I check the time on the computer. 8:29 AM. Fuck. I haven’t even brushed my
teeth. My hair looks like that? And oh my face—Don’t show video it is.
“Good morning everyone. Before we continue on with Labor Supply and Demand, I just
wanted to ask if you could turn on your video that would be great. Of course, I’m not forcing
anyone if they’re uncomfortable…but it would help me a lot to see your faces and not have to
speak into a void.”

You are forcing us if you put it like that. I wanted to leave the lesson then and there—the
fat red button a tantalizing escape—but I reluctantly turn my video on. As soon as I do, the white
light of the camera bores itself into my forehead. I can feel it searing my skin away. A laser sight
locked onto me. I expect a bullet to rattle through my skull any second. Damn. She just shared
her screen too. I can’t even see anyone. I can’t see myself. But everyone can see me. Just the
mere thought makes my body go rigid. My face still as a stone. I stare at the slides but can’t
make anything of them. They don’t even process as images or information. I’m just looking at a
monitor. A lightbulb. Flashing lights and colors. My brain is unable to connect the pixels
together. I can’t take it anymore. Gallery view. I finally take another look at myself but find no
relief. I’m hideous. I should’ve at least changed. Or showered. There was no time though. I hate
myself. I’m such an idiot. This is so embarrassing. Worse, I could now see the faces of some
other students. And if I scrolled along the sidebar, I would find many, many more waiting to tear
me apart.
I can no longer hear the professor’s voice. Her lips move, but none of the soothing
charisma leaks out. Her voice’s silky chime goes silent. She’s not on mute. I know for sure. A
sudden nausea overwhelms me, bloating my stomach and making its way up to my throat. I

swallow it down so hard, I’m afraid my esophagus might have ruptured. I stifle my choking;
suck in the curt, uneasy breaths. But my heart continues to batter my ribs, its pounding so
incessant I fear they can somehow hear it. I pretend to take notes. My pen scribbling at the air.
An excuse to look down. But instead I grow more anxious. I must deceive them. Are they still
watching me? I try to avert my gaze, but am unable to resist looking back up. An astonishing
sight meets my eyes. Replacing the PowerPoint presentation, the screens of some one hundred
twenty or so students were arranged into a neat matrix. Instantly, their faces began to morph into
massive, macabre eyeballs. Perfectly round. Perfectly white. Clean symmetrical spheres. Glaring.
Each eyeball is completely smooth and unblemished with not a vein in sight. They don’t
even have pupils. They almost couldn’t have been called eyes. The bright lights hypnotize me.
Horrify me. Petrify me. I can’t blink or look away. Sooty, wanton spots with luminous, iridescent
rings dapple my already bleary vision. I can scarcely make out milky white films the size of
pinheads that sit on each eyeball where the pupils should have been. The sound of their damp
squelching unnerves me as the diaphanous fluid, like liquid chrome, zips across their respective
eyes in a gyroscopic pattern. Then, like incisive pendulums, the eyes rock back and forth. They
strain and bulge in their surveillance. They’re searching for something. For me. They don’t even
have pupils, how could they see me? No. They’ll find me for sure. Perhaps they already have.
Fuck. No. As much as I don’t want to, my vision continues to focus on the jouncing eyes, not
once blinking. I am compelled to look at them. I have lost all say and control over my body.
And there are so many eyes. The blinding orbs just hang inside their little rectangular
boxes like a million miniature suns, suspended by unseen threads. Perhaps not all of them, but
surely the odds that at least one of them is aware of me was high. It was a near certainty. Hidden
within the droves of swarming eyes, a concealed enemy watches me with the lurid intensity of a

 

hawk. I wilt under their probing gaze. No matter where I look, I can’t tell if such an enemy
exists, but the mere chance possibility that I could be discovered terrifies me to no end. Those
unobservable eyes staring at me stare through me. They go right past me. It drives me mad. I’m
frightened. I’m furious. I can’t move. A puncturing pain throbs from the back of my head. Great.
A headache too. In the corner of my vision, I make out the time. Not even ten minutes had
passed since the class started. A perfect start to the day.