Thursday, March 19, 2020

Disconnecting after COVID-19

When all this ends, after weeks of isolation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the disconnection felt between the online and the offline worlds will probably become one of the major psychological problems people are faced with. Probably this period will go in history as the one during which people spent the longest portion of their life living online. Returning back to the offline world will not be easy for many.

In times of imposed isolation the internet and social media have become the last refuge of social life. This helps in making life bearable by keeping us in contact with friends, loved ones and family. It can also be an outlet for creative expression and the continuation of cultural life and for many a time a time during which they also cultivated friendships and more meaningful relationships.

Online art exhibitions, poetry recitals and jamming sessions and concerts are also filling a big void and people are also showing their best in inventing virtual spaces to live through this crisis in good company. The creativity going in this is amazing.

But with the prospect of isolation persisting for weeks if not months it becomes crucial to recognize the risks of the online world characterized by the ease of connections and disconnections and the dissonance between an online world where you congregate with like minded people of your choice and a much more complex real world.

The social media is also the home of echo chambers where people can convince themselves and those around them that the earth is flat. As sociologist Zygmunt Baumann warned the social media can be a trap, a place where "unlike the offline world, you can avoid everything which creates your anxiety in the offline world" where "you can just bypass it" and a place where human bonds are frail, interchangeable and disposable and based on the premise that the virtual is not necessarily real. The ambiguity of this distinction may well return to haunt us when things get back to 'normal' irrespective of our definition of what normality is.

All this underlies the importance of understanding the way the social media has changed us anthropologically. For we increasingly live in a risk prone world where random change can alter our lives from one day to the next. In some ways the social media satisfies a yearning for stability and tranquility by creating a space we think we can control. But at the same the ease of disconnection also threatens this illusion. Building meaningful human relations in this chaos where everything is open to chance is important. Ultimately the focus of critical thought should be to address the question of happiness; how to create a new art of caring for the self which makes us strong, happy and considerate towards others in a risky environment. The social media can be one of several tools helping us to achieve this aim. So lets use the time in isolation to nourish our souls by finding more time to discover ourselves through introspection, meditation and creativity. Sharing our creative reflections and accomplishments on the social media could also be a joyful experience and a solace for others. In many ways the social media contributes to the creation of the commons. But let us never forget that the world is greater than our iphones and PCs.

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