My generation grew up online. Endless ‘virtual life’ would be terrifying

College students thrive in a digital, virtual existence. But when COVID-19 cuts them off from the physical world, something important is lost.

My first name comes from the children’s books about Thomas the Tank Engine, The Railway Series. My eldest brother had been reading the books, and Oliver the Western Engine was one of his favorites. My mother thought the name was beautiful, and so I was named after a train.

The name also served a poetic purpose: I was born an identical twin, which placed me onto a set of parallel tracks with my brother, Ethan. If you’ve known twins, you’ve heard a version of this story before. We were dressed in matching outfits, our hair cut into identical shiny black bowls. We looked the same and were treated the same, always together.

As we grew, Ethan and I were eager to establish separate identities. We made different friends, wore different clothes. In high school we often avoided talking to each other. Then we chose different colleges and were living apart for the first time in our lives.

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