Categories
Issue 8

Digital Detox in Isolation

I used to joke with a friend: if you want to feel time slow down,  either be on a treadmill or lose your phone for a day. This is more true than ever in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. From weddings, birthday parties and even funerals shifting online, there aren’t several options but to make peace with being relegated to a small square on Zoom. However, it’s not just Zoom that’s the culprit but also our escalating usage of social media that has increased our screen time. A study of 4500 individuals showed that the majority of respondents acknowledged that their social media consumption (72%) and posting (43%) has peaked during the pandemic. 

In the process of reflecting more critically on my relationship with technology, I started researching more about how social media affects us. A few hours later, I come across a purportedly ‘random’  advertisement asking me, no, almost accusing me of being a ‘social media addict’, “Are you a social media addict? Take this quiz to find out!” As much as I felt called-out by the advertisement, it was hard to avoid. The next thing I knew, I took the quiz. A few hours later, I was watching a rabbit video and had already stalked a friend’s boyfriend’s mother’s sister. How I landed there, I wasn’t sure of that myself either. However, by the end of the day, I knew I was a social media addict!

Social media addiction, according to Addiction Centre is defined as, “a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to it such that it impairs other important life areas.” In the previous issue for OpenAxis, Rujuta Singh argued that “in many ways, the addictive nature of social media is a feature, not a design flaw.” Studies indicate that notifications from retweets, likes and shares trigger the release of dopamine within the brain — producing effects similar to that of consuming cocaine. 

A lot of people are increasingly becoming aware of how social media rewires the brain and affects our interaction, yet a few are willing to make a change. I would confess I am one of those who haven’t been willing to make a lasting change for long. Every now and then, I would delete Instagram after either getting bored, disgusted or both, however, my Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) would compel me to be back before the end of the day. This time though, I decided to try something new and radical — a digital detox in complete isolation. 

Digital Detox in Isolation

In 1654, the philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I didn’t quite imagine how tough it is to sit still when I made the decision to quit social media for a week in complete isolation.

Usually, I would wake up to be reminded of my FOMO through Instagram stories of my friends being out. However, the decision of giving up my social media gave me another kind of depressing FOMO. Will I be okay with missing out on posting a cute #couplegoal picture on Valentine’s Day? Are my friends sending me memes that I am not able to see? I didn’t just intensely desire those mundane interactions but craved them. I found myself thinking about whether my friends and family might just forget my presence.

This wasn’t what I imagined when I decided on a “digital detox.” I imagined a calmer, more composed and mindful person. I expected myself to be someone who would want to exercise, be more productive and spend time reading books and doing yoga. Isn’t this how they usually portray people who do a digital detox?  Instead, I found myself getting agitated, bored and just re-reading the same emails — basically utterly unproductive.

I didn’t have the urge to pick up a novel when I knew I couldn’t post a picture or I didn’t quite enjoy my isolation meals as much as I would have. Neither did it lead to a decluttering of my mind, the way I anticipated it would. In fact, being away from social media during complete isolation made me feel bored at best, and lonely and depressed at worst.  Why was I experiencing what I was experiencing, and is digital detox even possible and a worthwhile endeavour to undertake in today’s age? 

Impossibility of a Digital Detox 

“I don’t think digital detoxes are realistic anymore” writes Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee, author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. She further writes “We can’t live a connected and informed life that we really need to now, without some form of tech.” At a time especially when one is isolating, alone or quarantined, is it really a wise decision to do a digital detox then? While some wellness experts and articles strongly suggest that digital detox is good for your wellbeing, I personally found that in my experience, it made me more agitated.

A study by  Lancaster University found that as previously postulated, there is no direct ‘proven’ correlation between poor mental health and social media. Even in studies that claim a connection between the two, fail to answer whether poor mental health leads to more social media usage or vice versa. In fact, the same study by Lancaster University posits that worrying about our smartphone use is likelier to cause more depression and anxiety than using the tech. 

It raises the question of whether our brains have adopted technology to the extent that social media has become indispensable and unavoidable? If so, will just accepting that lead to more mental peace? Dr Doreen certainly believes so. She compares our relationship with technology to that of an essential item like food, and in that light, a digital detox is an equivalent of extreme diet. What we could and should strive for then is a mindful, purposeful use of social media instead of a drastic step like a digital detox. This would not just help cultivate a more meaningful relationship with technology but also renegotiate the terms of technology to our terms.

Oh wait, brb, let me quickly share this idea on Facebook! See ya! 

Ridhima Manocha is a final year English and Media Studies student at Ashoka University and has authored the book, The Sun and Shadow.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 8

From Reddit to Revolution: How Memes Propel Movements

In late January, Wall Street witnessed history. The stocks for GameStop, a retail chain in the United States that sells games and gaming consoles, shot up from being valued in the single dollars to hitting $347 per stock at its peak. This led to major losses for hedge funds who had shorted the stock, essentially betting large sums on its decline. The shift in stock value was caused by its mass-purchase by users on Reddit, a social networking platform. What initially started off as betting on GameStop stock in jest turned into a phenomenon fueled by anti-establishment sentiments. The internet memes littered through r/WallStreetBets (the subreddit at the heart of the situation) as well as other social media platforms played a critical role in spreading the joke and eventually, shaping what holding GameStop stock (GME) meant as a political statement. What is it about memes that can carry a movement – and how should it alter our understanding of the internet?

Internet memes are multimodal artifacts that are transformed by countless participants, through popular culture for public commentary. They serve as cultural commodities that represent public narratives at a point in history. Memes can also present visual arguments that discuss various ideological practices. Hence, they offer a mode of bidirectional communication in a social sphere–wherein they are shaped by, and actively shape, cultural discourse.  

The use of humor, in its various forms, is a critical feature of the internet meme. Humor is viewed as a means of establishing superiority or providing relief to oneself or others. Most critically, perhaps, it is understood as a medium to highlight incongruity in an environment. This position holds that to laugh is an intellectual activity, based on a psychological motivation to maintain consistency within one’s internal reference frames and external environment. When there is an inconsistency between an individual’s perception of the expected norm and an actual event, humor is used as a means to address the gap. The expression of dissent through humor, hence, becomes a frequently availed option. 

This was observed during the GameStop incident. The memes circulated about GameStop, hedge funds, and the stock market became a channel to challenge the financial systems of the United States, exacerbated economic inequalities, and the narrative of the ‘American dream’ – wherein an individual is deemed to be completely responsible for their own success or failure, regardless of the institutional frameworks that they operate within. 

Source: @OldPappyThomas, Twitter
Source: @herosvrdie69, Twitter

The element of humor in memes allows them to achieve popularity on the internet due to their “feel-good” factor. At the same time, they also contribute to the transfer of information and ideas that would traditionally fall under the realm of mainstream news cycles.

The dependence of memes on pop culture and humor has encouraged notions that they cheapen political discourse. However, this view has been rejected by those who argue that communication of political ideas through memes actually richen political conversations, due to their accessibility among the masses. Internet memes have hence ushered in an era of participatory media that exists as a direct retaliation to the exclusive, traditional media narratives that can be dictated by vested interests. 

Moreover, the circulation of memes also creates a sense of community among people in terms of their ideological leanings, values, and opinions. This consolidating feature of memes is critical to their role in propelling in-group unity, and consequently, action that pervades online spaces. The Occupy Wall Street Movement of 2011 stands testament to the ability of memes to contribute a movement on ground. Aimed at protesting economic inequality in the United States, OWS actively used internet memes to further its message, as well as to respond to developments during protests. Most notably, the event of a police officer pepper spraying peaceful OWS protestors was addressed by the creation of the ‘Pepper Spray Cop’ memes. The string of memes that followed commented on police brutality and protest etiquette, and brought attention to the irrationality of such actions through its depiction in humorous ways.

Source: KnowYourMeme

Internet memes, thus, have emerged as crucial tools that allow for ideological discourses to take place untethered among the masses. Their inherent humor accentuates the crux of several issues, often cutting through semantics that would be at play at the same coverage of events in traditional media. In this aspect, the use of internet memes can be viewed as a revolutionary phenomenon that transfers power to the people to voice their opinions. 

However, notions of nobility that surround the internet meme should be analyzed carefully. The same attributes of a meme that enable people to connect to its message – using humor to tackle incongruity, generating a sense of solidarity, and widening the scope for political engagement – can be utilized to propagate hateful ideas. A case in point is how Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign relied on viciously mocking Hillary Clinton through memes to generate a support base for itself. A meme, at the end of the day, is representative of the views of those who reproduce it. The political waves that any set of memes contribute to, hence, shape a phenomenon curated by their contents. The dissonance between different groups in real life will continue to exist online.

The contemporary potential of the internet meme pervades its original intent to provide its recipients with a laugh. The case of GameStop appropriately exhibits how memes can contribute to a movement, as well as drive it forward. While the United States financial system did not get reformed due to the GME surge, the incident has painted a lasting target on its back – with the possibility of landmark transformations at the horizon. 

Aarohi Sharma is a Psychology student at Ashoka University. Her academic interests primarily focus on the intersection of politics and psychology in society.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 8

Development: A Disaster in Disguise

On February 7, 2021, Uttarakhand was hit by yet another disaster. A glacial lake outburst in the Rishiganga river of the Nanda Devi National Park caused severe flash floods in the state. The Chamoli district was the worst affected region by the upsurge in the waters of the Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers. In addition to the immense loss of life and property, the estimated damage caused to the ongoing hydro-projects is over Rs. 1500 crores. However, this calamity cannot be dismissed as a natural act, especially since it has its origins deeply engraved in human activity and intervention. 

The Himalayas are a highly fragile and sensitive ecosystem with frequently occurring earthquakes, avalanches and floods. Developmental projects like hydropower plants, bridges and roads in these areas disrupt the natural course of activities, thereby resulting in the large magnitude of natural disasters. In addition to this, the melting of the ice-caps, escalated by Climate Change and Global Warming has made the Himalayas extremely volatile. And the lack of proper disaster management in these places only make matters worse by making rescue operations all the more challenging. 

Despite Rishiganga’s history of being a highly volatile area (major lake burst in 1968, 1970 and floods in 2013), Uttarakhand government has continued to sanction construction of both large and small hydropower projects in the state. Currently, over 80 major hydropower projects are either operating or under construction in the state. Additionally, the state has 33 small hydro projects under operation with 14 projects in the implementation process. 

The government’s reluctance in prioritising the environment also came to surface in the Union Budget, 2021. The Environment Ministry was allocated a total of Rs. 2869.93 crores, However, the Tapovan-Vishnugad, the worst-hit hydro project during the recent floods had an investment of over Rs. 4000 crores. This reveals the bare minimum effort from the government in matters of environment renewal and conservation. 

During the disaster of 2013, we witnessed the heavy price the people and the community had to pay due to the encroachment by the government over ecologically fragile spaces. In 2014, the Chopra Committee discouraged the construction of dams in periglacial regions, taking into consideration the 2013 cloud burst. However, the government’s neglect of the objections raised by experts and the protests by the local people is what caused the disaster, a disaster that was disguised and marketed as development. 

Though hydropower projects are India’s attempt at tapping and utilising its renewable source of energy, the sensitivity and fragility of their locations cannot be ignored. The Uttarakhand disaster is a warning sign for all the development activities happening in the various delicate ecosystems of the country. Another such disaster waiting to happen is in the Little Andaman island of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

The government think tank, Niti Aayog proposed a plan to make Little Andaman in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a free-trade zone by constructing a mega financial tourist complex. The document called ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island – Vision Document’, wants to use the strategic location of the island to build an area that could compete with Singapore and Hongkong in the international market.

Furthermore, for this project, the document proposes the de-reservation of 32% of the Reserved Forests and de-notification of 31% of the Tribal Reserves of the total 95% of forests that cover this area. The aim is to create financial and residential districts along with leisure spaces to increase tourism. The project also proposes the creation of nature resorts and retreats.

Being one of the worst-hit areas during the 2004 Tsunami, Little Andaman is geographically vulnerable and prone to tsunamis, floods and earthquakes. The document proposed takes no account of this fragility of the area. Allowing construction and development here might result in a huge loss of life and property, along with extensive damage to the ecosystem.

Moreover, the Onge tribe that inhabits Little Andaman, is one major indigenous tribe that continues to live in isolation. The de-notification of 31% of the area of their residence would not only leave them displaced but also expose them to the outside world. Along with the Onge tribe, Little Andaman is also home to the endangered Leatherback Sea turtle. The de-reservation of forests would thus result in a loss of habitat for both animals and the people, thereby endangering their lives.

The proposition by Niti Aayog has raised several red flags amongst the conservationists and environmentalists regarding the loss that might take place. What’s alarming is that the document uses the terms sustainable and holistic development, but the proposed plan, as of yet, does not include any concrete steps or provisions for the rehabilitation of the local people and the wildlife. Thus, once again the government’s intention lies in increasing revenue through the exploitation of both the ecosystem and the indigenous population without providing appropriate provisions.

With an increasing pressure to strengthen the economy and expand international trade, the government policies have been taking a monetarily beneficial perspective while environmental renewal and conservation in India, has taken a backseat. 

India’s policies and projects in regards to both economics and the environment reveal a non-sustainable model of development that not only includes the displacement of animals and forests but also indigenous people, from their original habitat. Without any provision for their rehabilitation, the future appears bleak for these communities. It has thus become a pressing need for policies and laws to be both economically and environmentally sustainable for the country. With the increase in development projects in recent years, the future of India’s diverse ecosystems continues to remain uncertain and vulnerable.

Artwork by Muskaan Kanodia

Muskaan is a junior at Ashoka University, double majoring in English and Sociology. When she is not drowning in books, you can find her drawing and smiling at strangers on the ghats of Banaras.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 8

Digital Detox in Isolation

I used to joke with a friend: if you want to feel time slow down,  either be on a treadmill or lose your phone for a day. This is more true than ever in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. From weddings, birthday parties and even funerals shifting online, there aren’t several options but to make peace with being relegated to a small square on Zoom. However, it’s not just Zoom that’s the culprit but also our escalating usage of social media that has increased our screen time. A study of 4500 individuals showed that the majority of respondents acknowledged that their social media consumption (72%) and posting (43%) has peaked during the pandemic. 

In the process of reflecting more critically on my relationship with technology, I started researching more about how social media affects us. A few hours later, I come across a purportedly ‘random’  advertisement asking me, no, almost accusing me of being a ‘social media addict’, “Are you a social media addict? Take this quiz to find out!” As much as I felt called-out by the advertisement, it was hard to avoid. The next thing I knew, I took the quiz. A few hours later, I was watching a rabbit video and had already stalked a friend’s boyfriend’s mother’s sister. How I landed there, I wasn’t sure of that myself either. However, by the end of the day, I knew I was a social media addict!

Social media addiction, according to Addiction Centre is defined as, “a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to it such that it impairs other important life areas.” In the previous issue for OpenAxis, Rujuta Singh argued that “in many ways, the addictive nature of social media is a feature, not a design flaw.” Studies indicate that notifications from retweets, likes and shares trigger the release of dopamine within the brain — producing effects similar to that of consuming cocaine. 

A lot of people are increasingly becoming aware of how social media rewires the brain and affects our interaction, yet a few are willing to make a change. I would confess I am one of those who haven’t been willing to make a lasting change for long. Every now and then, I would delete Instagram after either getting bored, disgusted or both, however, my Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) would compel me to be back before the end of the day. This time though, I decided to try something new and radical — a digital detox in complete isolation. 

Digital Detox in Isolation

In 1654, the philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I didn’t quite imagine how tough it is to sit still when I made the decision to quit social media for a week in complete isolation.

Usually, I would wake up to be reminded of my FOMO through Instagram stories of my friends being out. However, the decision of giving up my social media gave me another kind of depressing FOMO. Will I be okay with missing out on posting a cute #couplegoal picture on Valentine’s Day? Are my friends sending me memes that I am not able to see? I didn’t just intensely desire those mundane interactions but craved them. I found myself thinking about whether my friends and family might just forget my presence.

This wasn’t what I imagined when I decided on a “digital detox.” I imagined a calmer, more composed and mindful person. I expected myself to be someone who would want to exercise, be more productive and spend time reading books and doing yoga. Isn’t this how they usually portray people who do a digital detox?  Instead, I found myself getting agitated, bored and just re-reading the same emails — basically utterly unproductive.

I didn’t have the urge to pick up a novel when I knew I couldn’t post a picture or I didn’t quite enjoy my isolation meals as much as I would have. Neither did it lead to a decluttering of my mind, the way I anticipated it would. In fact, being away from social media during complete isolation made me feel bored at best, and lonely and depressed at worst.  Why was I experiencing what I was experiencing, and is digital detox even possible and a worthwhile endeavour to undertake in today’s age? 

Impossibility of a Digital Detox 

“I don’t think digital detoxes are realistic anymore” writes Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee, author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. She further writes “We can’t live a connected and informed life that we really need to now, without some form of tech.” At a time especially when one is isolating, alone or quarantined, is it really a wise decision to do a digital detox then? While some wellness experts and articles strongly suggest that digital detox is good for your wellbeing, I personally found that in my experience, it made me more agitated.

A study by  Lancaster University found that as previously postulated, there is no direct ‘proven’ correlation between poor mental health and social media. Even in studies that claim a connection between the two, fail to answer whether poor mental health leads to more social media usage or vice versa. In fact, the same study by Lancaster University posits that worrying about our smartphone use is likelier to cause more depression and anxiety than using the tech. 

It raises the question of whether our brains have adopted technology to the extent that social media has become indispensable and unavoidable? If so, will just accepting that lead to more mental peace? Dr Doreen certainly believes so. She compares our relationship with technology to that of an essential item like food, and in that light, a digital detox is an equivalent of extreme diet. What we could and should strive for then is a mindful, purposeful use of social media instead of a drastic step like a digital detox. This would not just help cultivate a more meaningful relationship with technology but also renegotiate the terms of technology to our terms.

Oh wait, brb, let me quickly share this idea on Facebook! See ya! 

Ridhima Manocha is a final year English and Media Studies student at Ashoka University and has authored the book, The Sun and Shadow.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 8

The Ineffectiveness and Brutality of Economic Sanctions

The recent coup orchestrated by the Tatmadaw (military) in Myanmar has attracted deep concerns and condemnation, with countries calling it a “serious blow to democracy.” In the aftermath, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is in control of the country, civilian leaders have been detained, the internet has been shut down and a state of emergency has been imposed for a year.

In alignment with the US’s long standing policy against authoritarian regimes, President Joe Biden has threatened to re-impose sanctions on Myanmar that had progressively been rolled back by the Obama administration following the initiation of democratic reforms in 2011. This threat is congruent with the popularly hailed western narrative of Myanmar being a “sanctions success” story. However, a closer look at Myanmar as well as other sanctioned regimes highlights the ineffectiveness of sanctions in attaining desired objectives. Additionally, sanctions have also often exacerbated pre-existing human rights situations, leading to more hardships for the people while regimes have stayed intact.

Economic sanctions are instruments of statecraft where there is a use or threat of use of economic capacity by a state or an international organization against another state or group of states to alter behaviors. These behaviors range from  proliferation of nuclear weapons, compromising human rights, harboring terrorism, engagement in armed aggression and  replacement of incumbent repressive governments. The economic threat is imposed mostly through means such as arms embargoes, asset freezes, trade restrictions, visa and travel bans besides others.

The rational logic behind sanctions is that since actors are concerned about economic outcomes, they would be compelled to commit towards certain behavioral norms as a result of expression of official displeasure through sanctions. Yet surprisingly, a landmark study spearheaded by economist Gary Clyde Hufbauer showed the success rate of sanctions at a meagre 34% in the 116 examined cases since 1914. A further reanalysis of the same data by political scientist Robert Pape pins the figure at an abysmal 4%.

The United States first imposed sanctions against Myanmar in 1988 to curb human rights abuses facilitated by the military regime and more sanctions were added via legislations and executive orders over the following decades. Nevertheless, sanctions failed to bolster the Myanmar government’s scores on measures of civil liberties and political rights from 1990-2011. The government continued the usage of torture, murder and disappearance to clampdown on political dissent and recurrent repression of  ethnic minorities throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Extensive sanctions did not prevent India and Pakistan from acquiring nuclear capabilities, nor did sanctions against Russia prevent excesses in Ukraine or the undemocratic annexation of Crimea. Similarly, North Korea had conducted six nuclear tests despite the imposition of multilateral economic sanctions by the US in 2002 and the United Nations Security Council in 2006 with respect to the pursuance of its nuclear program.

Sanctions primarily fail due to the globalized world  we live in. When sanctions lead to  closure of one market, targeted nations have the liberty to shift their economic focus to other markets and trading partners in order to maintain a respectable volume of trade. The big players like the US or the EU imposing sanctions is treated as an opportunity by other emerging yet major economies like India, China, South Korea. The differences in foreign policy among countries has an instrumental role to play in the survival of sanctioned economies. For example,  China’s long-term foreign policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of another state has been essential to the rise of China as Myanmar’s dominant economic ally since sanctions were imposed in the 1980s. World Bank figures indicate that Myanmar does $5.5 billion worth of trade with China each year, constituting 33% of all imports and exports. In stark contrast, the US foreign policy’s incessant emphasis on the spread of democracy has meant that the US is not in the country’s top 5 trading partners. China has also continued to have sizable economic ties with heavily-sanctioned North Korea, with bilateral trade increasing ten-fold between 2000-2015, reaching a peak in 2014 at $6.86 billion.

Barring effectiveness, precedents such as Iraq, North Korea and Iran also bear testimony to the gargantuan humanitarian crises that such sanctions trigger. Owing to prior reliance on imports for two-thirds of its food supply, the punitive financial and trade embargo imposed on Iraq in 1990 due to the invasion of Kuwait led to a price-rise of basic commodities by an astonishing 1000 percent between 1990-1995. This resulted in a 150 per cent increase in infant mortality rate and at least 6,70,000 children under-five died due to  impoverished conditions. Parallelly, the World Food Program estimates from 2019 show that approximately 43.4% (11 million) of the population in North Korea remains undernourished. The report states that the international trade restrictions only exacerbate the pre-existing food insecurity and malnutrition. Although Iranis cited as a sanctions-success story due to the signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015, the economic burden of these sanctions had already pushed 30% of the population into absolute poverty by 2017-2018. This segment of the population was estimated to be living on $1.08 a day. The Iranian Parliament’s Research Center also estimated that the sanctions-induced inflation will result in nearly 57 million Iranians living in poverty by March 2020.

Sanctions are regarded as an inexpensive and peaceful alternative to war, as a means of enforcing discipline and promoting peace. However, the accompanying  human costs  raise pertinent questions about their feasibility. In an interconnected world like ours, isolationist measures like unilateral or bilateral economic sanctions are bound to fail unless there is widespread international cooperation and consensus. However, distinct approaches to foreign policy have ensured the unattainability of such a consensus. Additionally, isolationist sanctions have inevitably pushed authoritarian regimes into the orbits of other similar regimes as demonstrated by China’s support for the Myanmar military as well as the North Korean government. Considering these consequences, there rises a need for reassessment of the usage of economic sanctions as a disciplinary instrument by the great powers. 

Image Credits: The Economist 

Saaransh Mishra is a graduate in Political Science and International Affairs. He is deeply fascinated by geopolitics, human rights, the media and wishes to pursue a career in the confluence of these fields. In his spare time, he watches, plays, discusses sports and loves listening to Indian fusion classical music.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 8

Boomers’ Guide to Gen Z: Intro to Texting 101

Gen Z in its natural online habitat can seem intimidating and a little baffling. I would know, despite technically being a part of this generation, I spend more time than I’d like to admit deciphering it. If you’ve ever had to google what “afaik” or “iykyk” means then this is for you. Texting etiquette is central to Gen Z culture, highlighting how we’ve expertly moulded language to create communities and best express ourselves online. 

I’m risking my fragile membership by undermining the very first principle of Gen Z communication: don’t explain it. Two things happen then: first, it’s not as funny anymore and second, it may open up the community to potential detractors. Remember the wildfire term “on fleek”? as soon as it spread too far like on the Ellen Show, it immediately lost all its charm. 

Although there is no consensus on Gen Z’s age, suffice it to say that we don’t remember a time before the Internet. Most are already tired of Facebook after having joined back in school, instead migrating over to Instagram—away from constantly being tagged in embarrassing family photos. That said, we do simultaneously possess an instinctive understanding of this ‘culture’ while being unable to explain it to anyone or ourselves. So, here’s to trying: 

Let’s start simple: texting or calling? 

Easy, texting. Of course, as with anything, there are outliers who would disagree. However, it’s common practice to watch the phone ring into oblivion and then immediately text: “hey, you called?”. 

Texting unfolds throughout a busy day of multi-tasking. We text in windows between or during online classes, while taking a break or just in bed procrastinating sleep. That’s not to say we’re anti-calling, it just costs us an exponentially larger amount of effort given our waning attention spans. Texting is great for a quick dopamine fix and we’ve been wired to love the ring of a notification ever since some got their first smartphones at 12. When we call, we are required to focus on nothing but the person’s voice. In other words, it’s a big deal. So if a gen z-er in your life offers to call, take it as the ego-boost that it is. 

Now that we’re talking texting, what are some dos and don’ts?

Seen-zoning is a thing, and possibly a social weapon of war so, beware. 

This one is difficult to pin down, sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes it simply isn’t. In budding romantic relationships, leaving someone ‘on read’ is often a carefully cultivated art of courtship. For example: “I want to text them, but I don’t want them to think they’re all I think about. Wait, are they all I think about?” which can then spiral into dangerous overthinking territory. This rationale prompts some of us to leave texts unattended for a pre-selected range of hours. 

In new friendships, it can become a matter of not seeming too eager but eager enough. In unwanted interactions or advances, it’s often a retreat onto safer shores. Sometimes, it’s just thinking that you already replied or just not having the energy to tend to all your burgeoning messages. It’s safe to say that no one has those blue-ticks switched on anymore. 

Source: @jaboukie on Twitter

Ghosting, on the other hand, is a harsh reality when seen-zoning is taken to its extreme. This is when a person stops texting you cold-turkey, and fades away first from your phone and then life. Needless to say, this is the nuclear missile in your arsenal of social weapons: only last-resort, and always destructive.

Source: https://tinderandblind.com/category/contributor/

Irony is the key 

Too many exclamation marks or emojis in one text is, as we like to say, just not it. However, if you do it ironically? That’s a different story. It’s a subtle art of balancing out the unassuming enthusiasm we encounter in family groups while showing that we’re not serious about it. For example, you’ll see gen z gravitating towards (too many) off-center emojis for the desired effect. 

To flip this over, some just won’t use any emojis at all. 

Instead, they’ll use 🙂 or a :)) or a ^___^ but rarely a 😀 and god forbid if someone goes for a xD unironically. They can all mean different things too, a 🙂 can be a naively friendly ending to a text, passive aggression or sometimes just plain anguish. 

Exhibit A: “i just got my 5th assignment of the day haha i love college :))))))))))” 

Translation: They don’t love college. 

Choose Your Own Case 

Notice the all lower-case register? This is for when you want to present yourself as nonchalant as it contains the non-verbal signal of informality. To achieve this, it’s best to blacklist autocorrect off your phone. 

Speaking of lower and upper-case, we like to switch things up or “sWiTch tHinGs uP”. This is the texting equivalent of siblings fighting when one mocks the other as soon as they turn away.

Source: https://knowyourmeme.com/

Gen Z humour is absurdist and cryptic. It’s gratifying to have something that only you and your friends can laugh at, while your parents shoot you their best “what did I do wrong” look. 

Source: posted by u/Explodernator343, Reddit

To Full-stop or Not to Full-stop

In a 2015 study, participants rated “texts that ended with a period as less sincere than those that did not” while no such difference was found for handwritten notes. This can be confusing: should one subvert grammatical rules for the sake of appearing amiable to a gen-zer? Linguist Lauren Collister calls herself a “code-switcher”, mirroring the texting tendencies of the recipient: if someone is informal, then she might drop the uppercase but if someone ends with a period, then she does too. 

The way we communicate is no less better or worse than how older generations used to—it’s just different. Every generation, be it the Boomers, Gen X or Millenials all created their own vocabulary, finding respite in the exclusivity of an inside joke. If Gen Z is starting to show the tell-tale signs of a cult, then you’re well on your way to understanding and maybe even moonlighting as one of us—grammatical warts and all. 

Devika is a second-year Economics and Media Studies major, an aspiring coffee-snob and always on the hunt for a new addition to her already overflowing to-be-read list.

Categories
Issue 8

Remembering SOPHIE

On the night of 31st January, as I was scrolling mindlessly through twitter, I came across a tweet from one of my mutual followers  that changed the course  of my night, for the worse. The tweet read, “Devastated to hear about the loss of SOPHIE. I thank you for helping me become who I am today, and who I might be tomorrow” attached with a picture of the phenomenal pop producer, SOPHIE Xeon. These rumours were later confirmed by SOPHIE’s UK record label, Transgressive, that released a statement regarding the 34-year-old artist’s tragic death in Greece. The statement read, “True to her spirituality, SOPHIE had climbed to watch the full moon and slipped and fell.”  

Rather than talking about emotions, naming them and laying things out for the listener, SOPHIE’s music was obsessed with the power of emotions, as can be seen in her singles  “Bipp“, “Like we never say “Goodbye“, and “It’s Okay to Cry“. SOPHIE’s heavy fixation on the power of giving yourself permission to feel with full intensity, without any inhibitions is a constant reassurance to all  LGBT+ teenagers who grew up questioning their validity, in places where disruption of the cisgender-heterosexual norm is almost always met with backlash. SOPHIE’s music not only provided some solace in a world where growing up closeted is nothing short of hell, but was also full of hope for a future world that was representative of everything progressive — the kind of world you would want to live in. 

SOPHIE’s unapologetic attitude towards her music and herself has not only been influential and life changing for the pop music industry, but also for her fans. From the very beginning of her musical journey, SOPHIE  adamantly refused to put her face on her work, or even create social media accounts in a world and industry that relies so much on social media — she claimed that she wanted her music speak to for her instead, and thus served as an inspiration for fans worldwide by showing them that it is not necessary to adhere to the rules that the world has set up for them, in order to live in it. But, this did not let SOPHIE shy away from reclaiming her voice and space as a transwoman, undeterred by the long list of critics and journalists who were constantly over analyzing her work and misreading it, some going as far as misgendering her.

SOPHIE was always a huge advocate of transparency and authenticity, both through her music and her words. Electronic music is often considered inauthentic or inferior to music that is more vocal in nature, however SOPHIE believed that “authenticity” is an individual and evolving process. In an interview with Sasha Geffin  early on in her career, she said, “A lot of people are interested in recreating an idea of the past, like the post-punk era or something, and would view this kind of recreation as less authentic…I think being completely authentic about the time you live in is something that I would view as a career-long objective — to find out what is authentically this moment.” Music was her way of asserting her true identity and expression. It was a reciprocation of how she experienced the world around her.

In a world where the LGBT+ community, especially transgender and non-binary people, are expected to provide evidence and justification for their identity all the time, SOPHIE’s music comes as an escape, creating an environment of experimentation and innovation that is like a playground for gender expression and identity. 

Calling SOPHIE a revolutionary genius is not an overstatement because she was light years ahead of her peers when it came to creativity and vision. She influenced an entire generation, both as an artist and as a person by reconstructing pop music and reimagining a worldview that places innovation at its core. 

SOPHIE’s loss is enormous for the music industry, but it is an even bigger loss for her family, friends and fans, whose lives SOPHIE coloured with compassion above everything else. They will live up to her legacy and keep honoring what was so close to her heart. 

Image Credits: SOPHIE, YouTube

Madhulika Agarwal is a third year English and Media Studies major who is interested in literature by children and for children. When she is not lamenting over her tiktok career that ended before it could start, she likes learning about animals and reading books with good art in them. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 8

Whose History Is It Anyway? – A Call For Inclusive Heritage Conservation

There exists a fine line between history and heritage. Our history, according to the books, lives in stone monuments and larger-than-life structures. It consists of towering monuments, expansive halls and rustic motifs. It speaks of kings and kingdoms, riches and grandeur, wars and battles. As for our heritage – it is all that lies  in between. It is in the pages of recipe books of food we eat, the letters we write, the medicines we take. It is in stories we share, songs we sing and the gossip we whisper. It exists not behind the plexiglass of museums, but within us – our communities and families. Our heritage is our history. However, we often tend to forget the role we ordinary people have played in our history. While the preservation of monuments and structures is important, it has resulted in this separation between the people and their history – a separation fostered by dusty, glass-encased, cement-ridden ruins that dot the expanse of most of India, especially New Delhi which is home to over 3000 historical monuments and sites. Historical preservation in India currently does not attempt to bridge this gap between people’s heritage and history, instead focuses merely on preserving monuments as ruins to be admired from afar. To create an environment where heritage is not only admired but lived in, conservation needs to be inclusive of the people and the culture that has sustained the very monument that is being preserved. 

The historical architecture of Delhi spans centuries of civilization, starting from the 12th century (or even earlier, according to some historians) under the Delhi Sultanate. From the Qutub Minar and the Red Fort, to Mirza Ghalib’s tomb and Roshanara’s gardens, to the Kotla Mubarakpur fort – it has an architectural legacy that almost mirrors the plurality of its culture. However, the upkeep and restoration of these monuments leave much to be desired. As heritage enthusiast Sohail Hashmi puts it, “There isn’t enough understanding of how to go about conserving heritage at the governmental level, nor are there ever enough funds for the Archaeological Survey of India”. 

Even the process of conservation and restoration of monuments has often displayed a lack of expertise from the ASI. Monuments deserve special restoration techniques since the materials that were used in their construction are different from what we use now, and the ravages of time and elements have rendered these monuments delicate. Sohail Hashmi explains how “in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, 27 monuments were selected around Delhi to receive a facelift, and the ASI was tasked with that, to be completed within two weeks. The original plaster used in the monuments would take a year to dry if used properly, and so the ASI, placed in a difficult situation, used cement on these structures. It ruined those monuments”. 

The deprived nature of the government’s heritage conservation infrastructure hardly allows for engagement with historical monuments. Most structures in Delhi have a few plaques around the heritage compound explaining the basic history of the place, but nothing further. For a city that is oozing with historical significance at every street corner, it is an affront for Delhiites to not be more aware of the heritage they’re living around. However, the entire blame for such  negligence cannot be placed on the ASI and the Indian government. For decades, the decisions on which monuments to preserve and related methodology  have been taken based on the procedure established by the British colonialists, meaning that monuments requiring protection  were chosen based on what the British felt was worth preserving. “So while the Qutub Minar was deemed worthy of conservation, the adjacent caravanserai that was built in the 17th Century was broken down by the British because they didn’t believe it was worth preserving,” Sohail Hashmi continues. 

The city of Shahjahanabad, a bustling region dating back to the period of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan is now but a shadow of its previous self. Several other monuments lay forgotten and ruined around Delhi’s landscape.

The restored face of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan’s Tomb

One such monument is Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan’s tomb in the Nizamuddin East region. Built during the 16th century by one of Akbar’s famous courtiers for his wife, it had been reduced to a dilapidated ruin in the last few centuries. It was not until the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) began its work under the Nizamuddin Renewal Project that the structure was restored and with it, a new process of restoration was brought about.

Interior motifs of Abdul Rahim Tomb

This process prioritises the restoration of monuments to their former glory, keeping in mind the methods and craftsmanship that had been used earlier. It thinks of conservation as serving the purpose of not just preserving history, but also making the structures useful in the present. The Abdur Rahim tomb, for instance, employed craftsmen skilled in the art of carefully restoring every motif on the dome and walls of the tomb, putting in almost 1,75,000 man-days of work. The work by the AKTC also included bringing back to life Rahim’s history, his poetry and his significant role in the Mughal court. It provided visitors and citizens of Delhi with a wholesome experience of the history of the place, its aesthetic beauty as well as its living heritage. The AKTC has worked similarly in places such as the Sunder Nursery, Humayun’s Tomb, Isa Khan’s tomb and other structures in the Nizamuddin region. Alongside archaeological restoration, the Nizamuddin Renewal Project focuses on enhancing the importance of the Nizamuddin Basti itself as a living heritage region and attempting to liven up its heritage value through food, music, and cultural traditions of the people living in it.

Sunder Nursery Post-Restoration
Isa Khan Mausoleum after Restoration

India is a country with a rich heritage, one that deserves not only to be protected but also cherished. While we are miles away from sustaining an inclusive development and conservation strategy in every monument and historical site in the country, we are on the right path. Projects like Aga Khan’s are required in other areas while aiming to protect our heritage. The restoration of our country’s heritage requires the government to invest in a manner that actively involves locals as stakeholders. With community engagement at its core, historic preservation can be turned into a culturally as well as economically profitable venture for the government and local residents. 

Picture Credits: Nayana Vachhani

Akanksha Mishra is a second-year political science and media studies student at Ashoka University. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).