US

A ‘U-turn’ in Perceptions

US
By Urooj Saad
Fri, 09, 20

The digital media has served as the most effective means of communication on the personal, professional, educational and commercial levels, thereby facilitating ‘social distancing’— the need of the hour....

COVER STORY

While the debate over the [mis]use of internet and social media apps continues on various public platforms across the world, their role during the current pandemic can’t be overlooked. The digital media has served as the most effective means of communication on the personal, professional, educational and commercial levels, thereby facilitating ‘social distancing’— the need of the hour.

Pre-pandemic milieu

As a mother of two teenagers, I’ve observed - and I’m sure you would agree with me - that the children growing up in today’s world of internet and digital technology, show a greater tendency of social aloofness and mood swings rather too frequently. The same holds true for teenagers and vicenarians, majority of whom fall prey to these smart screens, spending hour after hour literally glued to them. Even people who are 30 plus are sometimes seen lost in the virtual world of internet, so much so that they start ignoring their health, their work and social responsibilities. It sounds ludicrous that such people try to stay connected to those thousands of miles away, some of them they barely know, at the cost of their close relationships and sincere friendships. Those active on the social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram more likely lose their interest in their family affairs and much of their precious time and efforts are wasted in following the latest online posts and trends, making comments and updating their own profiles. Most of such activities lead to no constructive purposes but to attract more and more views, likes and subscribers.

These were the reasons that gradually led me to develop antipathy towards excessive use of smart phones, tablets and computers and, at times, under the influence of intense nostalgia, I would wish that somehow we could go back in that time when mobile phones were used solely for communication and the computers for official, commercial, research and educational objectives, thereby saving a lot of our valuable time for enjoying the simple pleasures of life and other productive activities such as workouts, gardening, reading and of course spending time with the family.

My apprehensions about the internet addiction or digital media obsession were seconded by the research reports** being published in local and international journals which declare that Internet Addiction (IA) is a Behavioural Disorder (BD) that casts mild to extreme adverse impacts on a person’s mental and physical health and it interferes with his/her regular social life, including academic, professional performance and daily routines. A number of treatments/techniques have been devised to overcome this obsessive-compulsive disorder. In countries like China and Korea, special clinics and camps have been set up for the treatment of ‘patients’ (Yes, they are referred to as patients in medical terms) being diagnosed with Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), which has been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and which is closely related to IA. My concerns about the Internet Addiction are very much still there and I still believe in these reports and I myself, am a witness to a few such pathetic cases.

HOWEVER ...

My viewpoint, has been altered ever since the novel COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in February 2020. As the situation got worse with every passing day, there was a gradual shift in my opinion about the use of internet related apps, most of which fall into the category of social media.

Post-pandemic milieu

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, I used to visit my parents twice or thrice a week, which I had to limit to just once in a fortnight, owing to the grim situation resulting from the pandemic. I had to ensure my family’s safety and mine through ‘social distancing’ and obviously I started to stay connected with my parents, relatives and friends through video calls on WhatsApp. Though video calls are in no way a substitute to a real visit or a meeting, but they seem to be filling in this gap to an appreciable extent in the current scenario. In fact, these video chatting apps have enabled us to be virtually together — at home, in a classroom, in an office conference room; anywhere and everywhere to carry on our routines. Though not perfect, at least we have some means to keep us going through this troublesome phase with the hope that “There is a good time coming” (the optimistic opening line from the famous poem by Charles Mackay, originally written in an entirely different context).

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Honestly speaking, I never considered Youtube something purposeful. To me it was just an entertainment platform where the so-called vloggers uploaded their weird memes and crazy pranks that made me sick to my stomach.

However, with the advent of Coronavirus, I had to revisit my hostile opinion about using social media platforms. It was in March 2020, when all the gyms had been closed and mine being no exception, was closed, too. I remained in low spirits for a week or so for I desperately missed my workout routine and my peers at the gym. I shared my disappointment with Hina*, one of my peers at the gym after which she shared some links to a few Youtube channels that offer all sorts of exercising routines. At first, the idea didn’t click.

BUT…

Once I watched those videos, I instantly geared up and the next morning I was exercising with my virtual gym buddies. And without any exaggeration, I can now say that I have really come to like these workout sessions. Actually, it’s a win-win situation for me. On the one hand, I’m saving on my monthly membership fee at the gym and my precious time of commutation to and from there. On the other hand, I workout at my own time of convenience and my virtual trainers and gym buddies are always there for me. Besides, I’m also learning new techniques to strengthen my muscles and stamina. And on top of that, I’ve developed a keen interest in yoga stretches that have helped improve my body flexibility. While it’s a slow process, I’m positive that if I persevere with my yoga stretches, I’ll be able to do the ‘splits’ in the next few months. And that would be the realization of one my fondest wishes.

A BIG thanks to the digital media technology that made it possible for me and so many others to stay fit while staying home.

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The worst part of the pandemic was accompanied by the best utilization of the prevailing social media portals. As fate would have it, I contracted the dreadful COVID-19 infection in the second week of August and obviously I had to confine myself to my room. For the next three seemingly never-ending weeks (Yes, I had to wait for three weeks to get through the swab test), I would only have my Holy Quran, my books (of various genres) and my smart phone as my companions. The initial thoughts of being quarantined sent shivers down my spine. I desperately wished that somehow I could hibernate through that tough period of self-isolation. But, I could do nothing except submitting to my fate.

The news of my getting caught by the virus spread like a wild fire and pretty soon, phone calls started pouring in to inquire after my well-being. Among them, there was one from my brother, who counselled me on how I could keep my spirits high (even in that gloomy situation) by going on a ‘Virtual World Tour’ through the courtesy of Youtube. Again, I was left with no other option. I thought that I should give it a try and the first place that I decided to visit was Rome, the city famous for its stunning architecture. The awesome guided tours of the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica and Pantheon were followed by beautifully curetted visits of the Museum of Rome, Sistine Chapel, Borghese Gallery and Museum and the list of the places visited got lengthier and lengthier with every passing day.

These virtual guided tours are available on the Youtube for free, which would otherwise cost a hefty amount if you plan to visit these places in person. Additionally, there is no restriction of time and you don’t need to make any prior reservations. Your visit starts as soon as you click the ‘PLAY’ button on the chosen video. So, my vote definitely is for it!

Anyways, the first week of quarantine dragged very slowly. Each day, I would spend a few hours reading my books and reciting the Holy Quran, while ‘touring’ my favourite sites and video chatting consumed another few hours. But that was not enough to keep myself busy or putting it frankly, to kill time when it seemed to be crawling at a snail’s pace. Then, there came another timely suggestion from Fouzia*, my friend who convinced me to join a WhatsApp group that is dedicated to sending the audios related to the in-depth study (Tafseer) of the Holy Quran. In addition, it also offers courses to guide the members through step-by-step memorization of different Quranic chapters (Surahs). And the great thing about it is that you get it all for free!

Luckily, I did join that group, as only after listening to the explanation of the very first chapter (Surah Al-Fatiha), I realized that my current knowledge about my beautiful and bountiful religion was just very basic. This was the best opportunity that came my way to strengthen my faith, rectify my mistakes and reflect on various dimensions of my life and relationships.

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Now, my isolation is over and so will the pandemic, sooner or later. Nevertheless, I have continued to pay virtual visits to my friends and relatives, whether they reside in the same city as mine or otherwise. I have my daily yoga and aerobics sessions with my virtual gym mates. My virtual tours of famous sites across the world continue and so does my in-depth Quranic studies.

This pandemic is, no doubt, life threatening but, for me, it has proved to be a blessing in disguise and the beginning of my life-long journey on the road to knowledge, exploration, reflection and improving on my mental and physical health. It has changed my perception about using the social media platforms altogether.

In today’s post modern world, shunning the digital media and internet related apps is as much impractical as its obsession is undesirable. These are the two extremes that we ought to avoid. A wiser and better strategy would be to harness and befriend the technology to discover and enjoy endless possibilities. To help us monitor our screen time, there are several mobile and computer apps like Freedom, Moment and ZenScreen available so that we can control and keep our online activities to an optimum level. That is what I call the ‘smart use’ of the ‘smart technology’!

*Names have been changed to protect the identities

**Reference to the case report published in the Eurasia Journal of Medicine and Oncology, 2019

By Saeed Ahmed, Melody G. Santos,

Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences,

Nassau University Medical Center,

New York, USA