Comment, Student Life

Advocating the Detox

There’s an unintentionally funny, tiresome practice ‘trending’ on campus- students are often found completely engrossed in the events unfolding on the screens of their phones and laptops. So essential is this daily practice to their mental and physical well-being that they often ignore anyone who tries to engage them in conversation ­, at best, or listen with their ears closed, at worst.  The few people strong enough to resist the seductive screen stand out in the silent crowd gathered outside lecture halls and classrooms across campus. The pattern of behaviour is so ingrained that it seems futile to challenge, yet there are a number of reasons why doing so is crucial. The most obvious, but regularly forgotten, reason is that an individual should control the technology he uses- not the other way round. For the purpose of this article, the purpose of using technology is to use any instrument or practice that makes accomplishing a goal easier. In the case of social media — for instance, Facebook boasts that it enable users to “connect with friends and the world around you” — the result contrary to its purpose is achieved. And this why taking a break from social media and the screen is relevant to optimizing your university experience.

Production time

Count and record the number of times you check social media over the course of the week, and notice when and where you did it. I recorded about five times a day, usually when I was travelling alone on the TTC or when I was bored in class and needed a shot of adrenaline to stay awake. When I briefly disabled my account — as I (try to) practice what I preach— I realized that a massive amount of effort was required to pay attention to the details around me. Facebook allowed me to access a world away from me, providing me with an escape from the world around me. This had translated into a reduced span of attention that I could successfully exercise in the classroom. Across the world similar symptoms have been observed and the phenomenon has been described as “shocking” because, like me, other students seem unable to absorb the content taught “no matter how riveting the lesson.” Apart from disengaging students with academia in the lecture halls, Facebook and other kinds of social media also provide a constantly available distraction when students are studying independently. Quickly logging in and ‘stalking’ other people, checking the news or updating your own profile routinely diminishes students’ productivity levels due to the large number of minutes wasted.

Maintaining the façade

Before digging into a gorgeously plated meal, almost everyone snaps a photograph of the dish and immediately posts it on Instagram. And if you’re really clever and keen, you can ‘share’ the image on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr. If you’re away from friends and family and cannot control the urge to spread the joy, you can send them the image on WhatsApp or WeChat, along with an implied message of ‘Look what you’re missing’. By the time the festivities are over, the food is cold. When somebody does the same to you, it is likely that you experience a feeling of sadness or inadequacy. The reverse may well be true: what you ‘view’ of other people’s lives, particularly if they are miserable students whining about the hopelessness of college life, you may build up a misplaced overconfidence in your own abilities. Projecting constantly happy versions of ourselves is an inescapable part of maintaining an online presence– after all who would ‘share’ their darkest moments with a bunch of strangers. The point is that apart from greatly compromising the spontaneity of life, and thereby making it a lot less enjoyable, maintaining an image is a high pressure job. The New York Times magazine defines it as “keeping it all up can feel like working as an unpaid intern for a Z-list celebrity known as Oneself.”  In an academic environment as demanding and competitive as the one at UofT, we must ask ourselves if the effort involved is worth the result.

The case for continuous connectivity

There are a number of valid reasons why many of you will turn the page and move onto greener pastures. Now, more than ever before, it is easier to study in groups. Simply create a group on Facebook or create a Google doc and you’re good to go. Most students are part of online course unions and course groups. There is a plethora of advice available from upper years and if your peers are so inclined, the glorious potential of shared notes. It’s a great tool to supplement class attendance and self-study. Secondly, most of student social life is connected to their online presence. A friend, who goes home every weekend, recently commented that he does not miss much on campus because he is in touch with both his friends and the occasionally alive campus life at St. George. As I discovered in my brief, sans Facebook sabbatical, one can and will likely experience feelings of isolation once off Facebook due to loss of knowledge. To keep up with events, you will have to visit campus club offices, read the sparsely decorated soft boards, contact your College Registrar or Programme Coordinator ( if you’re at UofT) and —heaven forbid — actually speak to people you meet outside class. Your well trained fingers will itch to type in the domain name for Twitter and the Instagram icon on your phone screen will look even more inviting. Thirdly, if most of your socializing happens via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp it will seem — at least for the first couple of days — that most of your friends dropped off the face of the earth. And finally, the scariest part is that since it is unlikely that everyone in your life will concurrently abstain from social media you will feel disoriented and confused about how to proceed because everyone around you is part of a world you chose to abandon. Think Neo vomiting after he leaves The Matrix for the first time.

The aftermath

I have the following advice for anybody, should they accept this mission, braving this dark path

  1. Try to stay the course for one week. On the seventh day decide whether or not to log back in.
  2. Write a diary recording your experience. If all else fails, you can recall, at a later stage in your life, and laugh about that crazy thing you did a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
  3. Make it known to your friends, family and acquaintances when you’re logging off your social media and when you decide to begin using it again.
  4. Set a given time for your period of abstinence from social media. Evaluate your feelings on a weekly basis. It helps build the discipline and allows you to regain control over your technology. Alternatively, it helps to regulate the time you spend on your social media accounts when they are alive.
  5. Fill up the time you usually spend on Facebook with other real-time activities like going to the gym, reading or exploring the city. That way the temptation to log back on is limited.

Concluding disclosure:

I use Facebook to promote this blog, but have deactivated my account so that I am not tempted to share this and future posts there to boost readership. Watch this space to see how I hold up.

Comment, Uncategorized

The Non-Stop Tragedy

Recently I saw a televised news report about an American tourist’s experience in what we would all like to believe is “Incredible India”. The lady stated that India was “a traveler’s heaven and a woman’s nightmare” and judging by the horrific increase in apparently unceasing rape cases she is right.

So I switched on the television, scoured the internet for more information and was deeply disgusted by the response of the “authorities” who simply used their extensive vocabulary of “heinous crime”, “tragic” and “unpardonable” and did nothing (as usual). My anger did not abate for weeks and I went on abusing the authorities, social norms and political apathy to vent my frustration.

However when my rage had (finally) subsided I began to wonder what exactly the men were thinking? I wondered whether if it ever registered in the collective Indian male psyche that A WOMAN NEVER ASKS TO BE RAPED, WHATEVER SHE WEARS. It is like any other crime: a murdered person never asks to be murdered and no one issues public invitations to robbers for them to break in and steal. Yet the habit of blaming the victim continues to dominate the Indian mindset(both men and sadly, women). For example, after Delhi’s horrific gang rape a certain magazine delved deeper and asked men what they thought. Now while it gives one hope that men protested alongside women at India Gate last December, many of them publicly condemning rape and starting organizations to spread awareness among themselves as many men went with the aforementioned “she asked for it” argument. Most of these came from rural back grounds yet the rising number of crime against women in cities, especially the metropolises, suggest that this attitude is pervasive in “Big Cities” as well.

I’m going to play the eternal cynic here. What else can be expected in a country where the moral police brigade overworks itself and stops couples from… wait for it…holding hands in public and legions of clearly desperate men invade pubs and harass the women there. Add to this fine mix, complete politicization of rape cases and an administration that, as mentioned previously, does nothing but “expresses regret”. The point is we’re beating behind the bush on issues that DESPERATELY NEED to be addressed, creating issues out of nothing worthwhile (Eg. Re-naming train stations and imprisoning cartoonists) and as tradition dictates, blaming the victim.

So as the protests grow in numbers, people take to the street and the political class re-iterates its apathy, repeatedly highlighting that their mentality regarding women still resides in 1000 A.D I want to know what the men think and what they plan to do about the present extremely frightening (and disgusting) situation. Women are yelling louder and louder with each passing day.

Are the men listening?


A 100 likes, 50 comments and an overworked newsfeed :)

Recently while updating my Facebook profile, which I do very rarely now because Facebook is a massive distraction, a number of “stories” popped up on my news feed. Many of these were of photographs, philosophically indulgent quotes and then…more photographs. Clicking on one of these links I soon found myself staring at a huge number of “likes”,an equally big number of inane comments by a variety of people and a few more creative responses like”Thank you :D” and “Love you too!!(saccharine smiley face)”
Now by no means do I object to the use (or voluntary overuse) of Facebook or any other social media, but I’ve begun wondering whether spending so much time in the virtual world is healthy. Admittedly social media has done (initial) wonders for my parents’ generation and others, with all the reconnecting, but in my generation’s case its usage seems to be downright rude and invasive. A Facebook “friend list” may be three thousand people strong but an actual friend list would be perhaps ten people strong. So effectively any poor, overworked news feed continues to give all of us information on the lives of irrelevant individuals who we have (probably) forgotten exist.
The other major feel-bad moment about social media is when real people would rather interact with the virtual “you”,than the real one sitting opposite them, for whatever reason. While talking to a friend or relative,for example,one often finds that they’d rather be talking to their (smart)phones or checking in on their virtual life . How do I know?
Because I most unfortunately succumbed to that very habit when I bought my first smartphone and while I was in the depths of virtual-world induced joy, I failed to notice exactly how unhappy this was making those people who actually wanted to know the “real” me.
Another thing to note (especially for students) about overuse of social media is that it is subtly dangerous.Very dangerous. Especially in the hands of exceptionally bored individuals. On a personal level it can make one very insecure and self-absorbed due to the continuous update of minute information. Online individuals can disguise themselves as different personalities, portray themselves very differently from their real persona and carry with themselves the ability to wreak total havoc. In fact this whole “Anonymously posting nasty comments about others” trend takes bullying and plain old nastiness to a whole different level. If you really hate someone say it to their faces (if you have the guts) or just avoid them in all the ways you think you can (if you don’t want to “court controversy”). Doing it through other people or forums is just plain cowardly and spiteful. A complete contrast to the ” Online Anonymous Nastiness” is the concept of “Anonymous Compliments” while making individuals feel good in that whole “you’ve got people rooting for you!” way, which is a great stand alone concept, begins to feel a little dry, pointless and cowardly after a point of time. If you want compliment a person, why not say it straight to their face? In fact communication of compliments directly will make the concerned person feel LOADS better than an anonymous compliment because now they know who is rooting for them and who to rely on “when the going gets tough”, which ultimately is a great thing for anyone to feel!