The Bizarrely Intimate Experience of Seeing Someone Else Pop Into Your Google Doc
And the unique moment of human connection that comes with it.
Having recently graduated high school, I can definitely say that I know a thing or two about Google Docs (and Sheets and Slides for that matter as well). Google Docs were (and still are) an extension of me, where I would write all my essays, type up notes and study guides, and jot down all my ideas, thoughts, and various miscellaneous other things I had to keep track of for school. There was rarely a day throughout my four years of high school where I wouldn’t interact with a Google Doc in some way. I’ve lived through epiphanies, theories, laughs, excitement, and yes, tears, through my Google Docs.
But there’s one specific experience I’ve had on Google Docs that I remember more vividly than any other. It’s when you’re working on a group project (there are a lot in high school), and often getting into that flow of thinking, typing, and editing where you forget the rest of the world exists. You’re existing in your own little digital cubicle.
And then suddenly, it happens. You see a little colored bubble pop up in the right-hand corner of the document. That circular symbol, often a bold pink, green, red, or blue color, and marked by either the first letter of the person’s name or a picture of them, in reality, is so much more. Someone else is now on your document, invading your digital space, seeing all the work you’ve done, maybe in awe of it or maybe slowly planning how they’ll delete and redo it all without you noticing, seeing all your thoughts and emotions regarding this particular project laid out on the screen right in front of them.
So what do you do now? If it’s someone you know well, like your best friend in the class, you type out a little “hey!” at the bottom of where you left off and have a little conversation. “sorry i just got back from soccer practice,” they’ll tell you, and you’ll respond, “np! i was just working on our thesis and trying to brainstorm more examples we can include. do u know if we have to put in a works cited?” And then you’ll continue working on it together in perfect harmony until you find a stopping point, parting ways into the digital sphere, like you are exiting a coffee shop and walking in opposite directions. Sometimes, if there are more members of your group, you’ll fill them in on what you did and what everyone still needs to do.
But often, as things go in high school, the situation can be a bit more complicated. Like if you don’t really know the person that decides to pop on suddenly, and you don’t really want to interact with them that much. It’s a bizarre, weird, annoyingly intimate situation, kind of like when your teacher pairs you up to work on a Webquest with a kid you’ve literally never talked to before, and you have to ask the person next to you “who is ___?” before you finally find each other, then end up just doing everything separately anyways, quietly waiting for the bell to ring so you can get out of this horribly uncomfortable situation and go over to your friends again. So, if you’re like me, and don’t want to deal with the social awkwardness of both looking at the doc together like “what are we going to do now?,” you’ll just leave. You’ll let them see the work that you’ve done, make any edits they want, etc. And then when they leave, you’ll come back again and resume wherever you left off.
Sometimes a very annoying situation can occur in which someone (most likely who we’d lovingly call the “freeloader” of this particular project) will come onto the doc, idly sit there a few moments just watching you work, and then leave. They’ll continue to do this sporadically throughout the day or week, literally never adding or changing anything (version history doesn’t lie). This is troublesome as this person clearly doesn’t want to do any work of their own, but they want to make sure that someone is doing it so they can at least put their name on a finished assignment and get a piece of the pie when the grades come back (no I’m most definitely not speaking from experience, why do you ask?).
There’s also a situation in which you and someone else will silently be fighting over something in the doc. They’ll delete something you wrote, you’ll silently add it back, they’ll delete it again, and so forth until one person either gives up, doesn’t notice it’s been changed again, or time runs out and you have to turn it in.
There’s one situation though, that represents the essence of human connection, understanding, and communication in a way that I haven’t seen elsewhere. It’s when you and someone else both join the doc in the middle of the night (or, more often, the morning — at 1, 2, 3, 4, even 5 am), frantically rushing to get a project done (and hopefully earn at least a good, or decent grade) before it’s due the next day. At this point, all bets are off. You don’t care about the fact that you’ve maybe procrastinated up until this point. You don’t care that the other members of your group haven’t done anything and, at this point, won’t do anything. You don’t even care if you don’t know the person. It’s too late for any of that. It’s just you, and this other colored dot in the corner of your Google Doc, working together to just get this project, or paper, or presentation, or whatever, done.
It’s a huge feat. It’s a race to the finish. It’s the collective power and ambition of two people working together to accomplish something that no one (read, your teacher and their incessant “this is not something that can be done the night before” comments) ever thought would be possible. It’s the ultimate human connection, an incredibly personal experience with someone in which you both put everything you’ve got on the line.
As one person commented on the above TikTok, “like I don’t even know who the person is but it’s like… you’re on at the same time as me?? Guess we’re meant to be??” Or as someone else mentioned, “it’s like a whole different level of magical romance.”
And this magical connection is only magnified when it’s the whole class that’s present. As one TikTok user states, “I was writing an essay and I constantly referred to the google doc with the instructions and when I say my whole class was there.”
However, you also never want to share your doc with your teacher too soon, in the rare event that they will come on in the wee hours and see you typing away. In that case, as you slowly watch your facade of being a responsible, non-procrastinating student fade away, it’s time to panic, abort the mission, and hope and pray that you have a sub tomorrow.
In the past few months, as I haven’t been in school and thus haven’t had any group projects, I’ve resorted to popping into random Google Docs I find on the internet. This allows me to spontaneously meet other journeyers of the hidden depths of the web, as though I was stumbling into someone at the ends of the earth. Only this time, instead of that “someone” being a person, it’s the ever-elusive Anonymous Nyan Cat.