While technology seems to have made life easy for students, an increased dependence on it has made it difficult for them to associate with people outside the virtual world.
Long weekend or short, there was only one way Samir knew to spend a holiday — staying glued to his mobile. Technology had been growing on him from his plus two days when he got his first mobile, and now it is part of his central nervous system.
“Technology has been a boon to us,” says Nasreen. “Our teachers use powerpoint slides extensively. These are mailed to us.” Assignments are submitted on email and research is done on the World Wide Web. Students form message groups on the Internet and share information in a flash. On the face of it, technology seems to make life easy for college students, but only on the face of it.
Akshara would be on whatsapp well into the night, chatting with her online friends. She finds it difficult to go to sleep before one A.M., a complaint once common among senior citizens but now among the youth as well.
Swetha tends to check her Facebook on her mobile dozens of times every day. She updates her posts several times a day. She changes her profile pictures every few days. And she has to react immediately to all posts from her friends.
To Samir, Akshara and their friends, technology and gadgets are second nature. When they don’t network, they listen to music or play games on their devices. If a friend is travelling, they track the train he is on. Or download or exchange video clips or browse the Internet incessantly.
They are addicted to the different avatars of technology and each has its consequence. Pre-occupation with social media can verge on obsession. It leads to repeated actions and restlessness, disrupts work, and results in shortening attention spans. Sleeplessness is a natural corollary because the mind is kept on high alert all the time.
It can get worse. Nicky’s language on the Facebook would have embarrassed or even shocked his parents. “O we don’t exactly mean anything, it is just the regular lingo,” he laughed when someone objected.
Words used from the safe distance of the virtual world are indiscriminately tossed around like toys. The language used on social media sites often veers towards crassness, vulgarity, and brashness, and doesn’t speak well of the underlying culture.
Obsessive presence in the virtual world can take one farther and farther away from the real world, leading to a sense of alienation and paradoxically, a desire to be alone. Sara could not connect with the ‘real people’ in her life. She felt cold and distant at social gatherings and tried to wriggle out of attending them. When in a group, this chatter box in the virtual world had nothing to contribute.
Most often we do not realise the harm we do to ourselves. “You really think we don’t know the difference between violent games and violence in real life?” demanded Prashant, when someone protested the violent games he constantly played on his mobile.
He did not realise that constant exposure to a violent virtual world could insidiously blur one’s perceptions of reality. Have you seen recent newspaper reports of people using their mobiles to take photos at disaster and accident sites instead of extending help? Though these are still rare reports, they show the warped priorities of media-obsessed people. Surely saving a life is more important than a good photo opportunity or a sensational status update?
While most of us haven’t gone down that street yet, it is moot to note the subtle changes in hard wiring that happens in us when we allow the electronic world to take over our lives.
Instant gratification, thecomfort of anonymity and distance makes the Internet and communication technology attractive and exciting. They allow us the luxury of being what we might want to be but aren’t in real life. They get us the attention and ‘likes’ we crave. But at what cost?
Erosion of one’s sensitivity to others, an inability to empathise, feel compassion for or connect with real people are too heavy a price to pay for the temporary fun and excitement. By inuring yourself to violence and the suffering of others’, you end up building a cocoon of coldness around yourself. Later in life this coldness and aloofness will stand in the way of building healthy relationships.
But as always, the fault lies not with technology but with us for misusing a powerful tool. A tool that is capable of sparking revolutions, political and social. A tool that has birthed a fledgling institution called civil society that derives energy from the voice of millions who might otherwise have remained unseen and unheard. It is in your hands to use it responsibly and judiciously.
Email: sumathi.sudhakar @gmail.com