The boons and banes of being Online

Our dependence on digital technology has increased during the pandemic. Don’t believe us? Netflix gained 16 million subscribers in just 3 months in 2020 as countries introduced lockdowns. So you get the idea.

Apart from that people in the United States have come up with a term called ‘Zoom dysmorphic’ where people who have been looking at themselves for too long without a filter and are finding themselves unattractive leading to a plastic surgery boom. 

Besides the extremities, spending too much time ( subjective to each one of you reading it ) can make us a wide range of uncertain emotions.

But we aren’t here to reiterate our social media usage. Nah you got Google for that. You’re here because Neha and I want to improve our digital well-being and share our learning and experiences with a larger audience.

Before we begin this exciting new quest, here is a little background: Our Banes-

Increased screen time.

P: Since the past year our work-home routine has been severely disrupted due to the pandemic. We suddenly have so much time on our hands, that we tend to spend it mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. But this time spent on social media apps is probably time worst spent since we feel worse than when we first started. Am I right?

N: I am pretty certain that more than 90% of us depend on our phones for almost everything. We love to be online. Be it for information, entertainment, music, setting the alarm, or simply falling asleep. We need our smartphones. And there is no denying that. As much as I kept denying the fact that I do not use my phone often and can live without it, every day that passes by is making me realise otherwise.

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ALWAYS TRACKING

P: So, in this world where being online bombards us with information, what can we do to remain sane? These search engines save our history, they use our algorithms to give us more information which we might like to keep us online longer. And it works.

N: Without knowing I would have gone from one harmless scroll on my Instagram page, to news about covid dead bodies flowing down the Ganga, to a video of a kid crying in Palestine because he lost his mother, to even what Justin Beiber ate for lunch. How did that happen right? And why did I let it happen? And once that happens, next time Instagram knows I looked at those videos, so it starts showing me more about it. And I get stuck in an endless loop!

Sleep Deprivation

Now our increased screen time has led us to sleep less. This is pretty interesting to see how everything is interconnected. This is because our phones emit a blue light that interferes with the brain in secreting the sleep hormone known as melatonin. That’s why we wake up groggy and even more tired than before. 

Apart from the literal effects of social media, To fall asleep our brains need to be relaxed. Our brains are active as we consume information from social media, therefore we can’t fall asleep. 

24/7 News Cycle

Another significant factor affecting our digital well-being would be coming across an article that makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed. We are in the 24/7 news cycle we are stuck and tend to eat more which makes us lethargic.

P: I get it, we want to be informed but not at the cost of our well being, right?. We get less time to do what we want. It’s a loop. So how the hell do we get out of this mess?

N: I used to google about COVID stats, about its symptoms, about its updates. And then suddenly, I was surrounded by Covid news. Much more information than what I needed, and of course it started driving me insane. When I read that there were 25,000 cases a day in Delhi, fear started enveloping me. I didn’t ask for it, google simply showed it to me. People would forward videos and link on WhatsApp, share stories on Insta, tag people on Facebook, I couldn’t escape it but neither could I stay offline.

TAKE A STAND- Bane to Boon

N: So, I decided to take a stand for my own well-being. I knew to remain sane and not let fear and boredom get to me, I had to get out of that loop. I couldn’t stop using the internet or my phone, which meant I would be extremely bored the entire day, but I couldn’t sit online all day either, as it would scare the shit out of me. But since I have an idea of how the internet works, I can try changing my own search history right?

THE CHOICE IS YOURS

We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.

Carlos Castaneda

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – youre right,” 

Henry Ford

P: These quotes mentioned reminded me that I had power over my choices. I was just sick and tired of feeling shit. And decided to learn ways to intentionally feel better. I did a course on the psychology of a good life on Coursera, a free online platform to learn from universities all across the globe. Taking the course has led me to write this blog to share with you what I learnt.

N: I looked up how to do yoga and not how many people died today. I used my WhatsApp to video call my grandparents and see them smile, I learnt to cook. And then my feed slowly started filling up with yoga to stir your soul instead of news to kill your soul. I started getting youtube recommendations of Ellens talk show, of Jimmy Fallon and carpool karaoke songs! I got recipes online with which I became a decent cook. within a week, I could see a change.

Practice Self Compassion

P: The course I did on Coursera was on the Science of Well Being, the psychology of a good life, taught by Laurie Santos, a Professor of Psychology at Yale University. She has two degrees from Harvard and PhD as well. She started the course to bust myths around what we think makes us happy and what actually makes us happy.

One of the first things she spoke about was the need to validate our own feelings and acknowledge what is happening around us. I too believe that, once we accept, we can move on and grow.  Now is the time to be kinder to ourselves. Like many of you out there who may be wondering, you want to stay abreast with the news but not at the cost of your mental health. 

I realized I was consciously damaging my own mental health while trying to keep up with the news. Laurie Santos’ simple advice was, “It’s a 24/7 news cycle, whatever major happening is there, will be the same in the morning. It’s crucial to protect your mental health.” I couldn’t agree more. She put a lot of things into perspective for me.

PRACTICE GRATITUDE

P: I know it sounds obvious, but most often we tend to forget to be thankful for what we already have in our quest for wanting more.

For example, exactly a year ago, I was stuck in Uttarakhand, airports closed, no way to reach home. My mental health was at the lowest since I hadn’t met my family in over 5 months. Now a year later, I’m in the comfort of my house, my dog at my feet.

There are so many things to be grateful for. It depends on YOU, and what YOU decide to FOCUS on that really makes you feel good or not.

The pandemic definitely made us wish to be someplace else. So we don’t have to deal with the NOW. But from experience, taking a trip to distract yourself doesn’t make you feel better. It actually Rob’s your time from appreciating what’s in front of you Sooner or later we will have to confront what is bothering us. I got Robert Frost to back me up here “The only way around is through.”

DO AN ONLINE COURSE

P: By now you probably may have noticed I’m obsessed with quotes. Quotes are short, impactful and just hit the sweet spot. So in the words of Albert Einstien, “Don’t let schooling get in your way of education.”

I have found self-education is the most liberating and fascinating form of learning. There are so many online’s sites to learn, starting from Coursera, TedX,  SkillShare, Future Learn, The UN has courses as well. 

P: Fun Fact- I got interested in learning about climate change, so I did a course online by UNCCLEARN on Gender and Environment.

It talks about how climate change affects gender differently. Women are disproportionally affected by climate change than men. They have to walk long distances to fetch water due to droughts. Also, Climate change is making it harder for women to manage their household responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, gathering resources, and caring for children. Since most of them walk long distances in isolated areas they are more vulnerable to heat strokes and sexual assault.

I did the course for the love of learning. Then 6 months later, I was sent as a field reporter to the Himalayas to captures human stories about climate change. The biggest takeaway was everything I learnt I saw face to face on the ground. That for you is the beauty of education. 

So knowledge is never wasted.

In the words of Author T.H. White on learning as a cure for sadness:

“The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

Source: The Once and Future King

I hope the next time you are sad, you remember these words and make yourself feel better.

Unfollow, Block, Mute and Delete 

P: I mean, many good things happened to me on social media, The algorisms pick up. For example, I started following lots of waste management handles, I got recommended to one that just started up in Mumbai. I found them out through social media and hit them up! I got a free pass to Youtube FAN FEST.  Follow people that spark joy in you.

I love spending my time on YouTube for mindfulness. You should check out Beautiful, Declutter The mind 

Move your body, movement is medicine. Let YouTube pave the way for your fitness journey. From Fitgrit, 28 SuperHIIT Series, monthly pilate workouts with Move WIth Nicole, strength and conditioning workouts by Divison 1 athlete, Sydney Cummings, to Blogilates.

You are spoilt with variety.

BE MINDFUL

Instead of having an approach of restrictions or limiting app usage. Find things that make you good instead.

Sounds simple. But actually the hardest. That’s why it’s the last point.

N: It was pretty simple, my search, my hands. My phone, my decision. I could watch a VOX video or I could watch a CNN news video about the pandemic. And I know this isn’t something you don’t know. But it is something we simply haven’t gotten ourselves to do. We are so focused on the pandemic, on how long we will be sitting at home, stuck in front of a screen that we don’t give ourselves the freedom to make this choice. We change from work screen to news screen, from memes on Instagram to a story about a serious war in Israel, we let ourselves get lost in this world of technology.

Maybe its time to take a step back, and re arrange your history. Your google and Facebook search history that is.

DISCLAIMER: This series is based on personal experience and knowledge from a course I did. So viewer discretion is advised.

BIBLIOGRAPHY 

How phones affect our sleep –https://www.sclhealth.org/blog/2019/09/why-it-is-time-to-ditch-the-phone-before-bed/#:~:text=Blue%20light%20is%20harmful%20to,wake%20up%20the%20next%20day.

The Happiness Podcast – https://open.spotify.com/show/3i5TCKhc6GY42pOWkpWveG

Course on Science of Well Being – https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being

COVER CREDITS- Beyond The Wall

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