Not only has the pandemic changed the very nature of how things work in the world, it has also challenged what we knew about ourselves. Perhaps whoever professed that human beings are social beings wasn’t prescient enough to tell us how to survive isolation in a pandemic. Within this time, we have had many conversations about the metamorphosis we all can agree we have been through because to say one has come out of being stuck at home unchanged would have to be something exceptional and largely contentious. As we navigate the next stage of the pandemic in which vaccines are made available throughout the world and the inevitable resumption happens, we need to keep the following pertinent ideas in mind.
Many people might have cherished the thought of having time to themselves when lockdowns were announced. From making dalgona coffee to diving into a ‘to be read’ pile of books, many people did engage in trends and rekindled hobbies. On the flipside, many have had it difficult to be productive in terms of hobbies or in terms of work.
An article published in The Conversation elucidated how isolation provides us opportunities for deep self-introspection. The maxims presented in the piece tell us how many philosophers affirmed solitude to be a panacea. While these maxims do push one to turn the gaze inwards, the situation we find ourselves in doesn’t allow much room for nonchalance. We are constantly connected to the internet and there is always something going on in the world that we cannot ignore.
Additionally, our personal disposition is also shown to have an effect on how we process what is happening through the pandemic. A research conducted by The Greater Divide, a consultancy in Virginia, found that introverts might be suffering more than extroverts in the pandemic. One of the reasons that study found extroverts to have a generally better sense of well-being was that they had larger social networks compared to introverts. Therefore, they were able to adapt to isolation with more resilience by still being connected.
It is not that the philosophers were completely wrong. Spending time alone can sometimes really favour one’s state of mind. But what we need to do is to evaluate the new meanings the pandemic has given to “isolation” and the need to reflect. In today’s hyperconnected world, can we really afford to disconnect? We all have commitments that may inhibit the state of freedom found in isolation that philosophers like Montaigne mused about.
A study conducted by the University of Essex shows that productivity while working from home had declined for those in less privileged socioeconomic groups, particularly those whose occupation were less suited for working from homes. These groups consisted of low earners, self-employed professionals who had never worked from a home setting before, and women with children. According to Adams-Prassl et al. (2020), in the United Kingdom and the United States, women are more likely to lose jobs. The study also explains how these groups are also more vulnerable to experiencing a decline in their well-being. Such cases of unemployment and scarcity, especially when there are others dependent on the individual, could lead to a vicious cycle of mental stress and unproductivity as it also affects dependent family members.
The world’s understanding of productivity required a reappraisal when the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world because little is known about whether we are navigating it right, but it is evident that it does not feel like we are doing okay.
In the nine months since WHO declared a pandemic, most educational institutions have found a way to complete their syllabi. While the effort is exemplary, the situation hasn’t been equally conducive to learning for all. As a response to the pandemic, the government of India postponed exams as it declared a country wide lockdown. Due to the pandemic, it is estimated that the education of more than 320 million students in India was disrupted. The Ministry of Human Resource Development also made available several e-learning resources to students. For secondary education, portals like Diksha and e-Pathshala housed resources for classes 1 to 12 whereas for higher education there would be portals like Swayam and Swayam Prabha (TV channels transmitting educational content). But can these initiatives be thought of as successful when 27% of students do not have access to smartphones or laptops, barring them from attending online classes?
The pandemic has necessitated staying indoors, hence, we access almost all our information from our devices. While there is no other option, the lack of consciousness towards how deeply learning has been affected, how many people were bereft of pivotal experiences while their lives continue on as if things were normal, is astounding. In addition, how all of this requires students and teachers to lead a sedentary lifestyle makes this a well-being quagmire.
A study examining the effects of increased screen time on children found that more time spent reading on screens would increase chances of myopia in children. In addition, the study stated that physical exercise and outdoor activities are of paramount importance to prevent the development of myopia on children. Another study also linked increased screen time to higher risks of developing conditions such as obesity and hypertension; these effects were more observable amongst adults. Online education, for those who can access it, has increased screen time while outdoor activities have been limited for children for months now.
All of these things show that through the course of the pandemic, many of us have been put in vulnerable positions. Across social strata, there is a shared semblance of the struggle that everyone has been through. The pandemic has shown that our perception of productivity and well-being needs to be reassessed, at least till we emulate the world we knew before COVID-19, as closely as possible. And even if we may move on to a “new normal” in the new year, perhaps some of these ideas so crucial to our day-to-day lives, normalised overtime, do need to be put under a critical lens.
Nirvik Thapa is a student of Sociology/Anthropology, Media Studies and International Relations at Ashoka University. Some of his other interests include music, pop culture and urbanism.
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