Issue 21

Socially Content Yet Blissfully Unaware

How many of us are guilty of scrolling through social media all day? How many of us check our Instagram feeds before getting out of bed in the morning? Surveys say media users spend 2.5 hours per day on social media for various reasons. The pervasiveness of social media has come to take over our lives and now defines a large part of who we are. One look at someone’s Instagram feed, and you can learn their likes, dislikes and who they are. Or at least how they wish to be perceived. 

Social media is an effective tool in helping individuals put their best foot forward. Amidst the glitz and glamour of perfectly curated feeds and highlight reels, it’s often easy to forget that most of it is not real, which is not to say that it is magic or a hologram, but rather a collection of a few memorable moments in one’s life. However, this is not true for all platforms, and they differ in the levels of authenticity portrayed. Instagram and Facebook, for example, are associated with hindered wellbeing and a more made-up version of reality, compared to Twitter which aids positive emotions and is considered a space to express honest opinions. 

One of the prime reasons for monetary-free access to social media is the financial backing by advertisers – both for our time and attention. In 2021, Facebook made $114.9 billion from advertising alone. Advertisements have hijacked social media and transformed it from a platform designed to share and connect to a marketplace to buy and sell. What you’re selling has also changed with people increasingly turning themselves into consumable brands and creating a new career path of ‘influencer’.  

Social media trends like ‘that girl‘ promote an ideal lifestyle, extensively curated to drive views to accounts. Such trends flourish and are enormously replicated because of their aspirational value to the audience that consumes them. ‘That girl’ wakes up and makes her Instagram-worthy morning coffee. She shows you her hyper-productive morning routine, wears only the most trendy clothes, flaunts her handsome partner, and makes her day look like she hardly works. She romanticizes life so well that watching her leaves you hating yourself for not having the life she does and feeling guilty for being human. The truth is, ‘that girl’ doesn’t show you the messy parts of her life. She hides the breakdowns and the breakups, doesn’t show you the extent of hard work that goes into shooting those morning routine videos, and forgets to mention that the clothes were part of a barter collaboration. ‘That girl’ carefully frames a narrative that makes you either want her or want to be her. 

Other trends, such as the ‘daily reminder that social media is fake‘ trend, focus on celebrating human flaws and all the physical insecurities social media users try to hide. These serve as a juxtaposition, reminding viewers that even ‘that girl’ is like you. While we all claim to be aware that social media is not real and applaud those who upload unedited, no-filter images, when it comes to ourselves, we find it impossible to find that same compassion. 

It’s not all that girl’s fault, though. She is simply a cog in the social media machine. The real culprit is the algorithm created to keep consumers hooked and fuel their daily mindless scrolling. Studies have shown that endless likes, shares, and retweets on social media platforms give users the same dopamine release as gambling and consuming drugs. Algorithms make use of this easy addiction and curate your feed in a way that repeatedly exhibits content of the same niche. They reinforce the ideas and feelings of positive or negative self-evaluation that the content elicits. 

Influencers leverage the idea of relatability and aspiration to construct an online persona that will be liked and replicated by their audiences to sell branded products. A study shows approximately 80% of consumers have made purchases based on influencer recommendations. Consumers are more likely to adhere to a peer recommendation than a brand advertisement and require social proof when making purchase decisions. One tends to forget that these influencers run businesses driven by a profit-oriented approach. Brands are becoming more and more aware of how to manipulate a consumer’s buying habits through influencer marketing. It is a consumer’s right to be made aware of these practices and their responsibility to ask for more information.   

At the single click of a button comes both the ease of following and unfollowing these pages. But aspiring to these lifestyles, watching this content, and repeatedly scrolling become habits one can’t forego. There is a rising herd mentality and aimless following that social media breeds. Are you losing your individuality? Is everyone slowly morphing into the most viewed social media personas, or is there still hope to escape the hypnosis of mindless consumption? 

You are the content you consume because the content, in the form of other people’s preferences, videos, and the level of familiarity, becomes the basis for your decisions. Technology allows access to a global audience, known and unknown, and suggests everything right from friends to books and music. The consumer now believes that if everyone is doing it, it must be right. We have become so dIgitally desensitized to the world outside our screens. If we take a step back, we can see that we have lost sight of what’s real and not.

Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and travelling.

Reya Daya is a third-year student, studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture Credits: Unsplash

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).

Issue 19

Art on the Gram: 4 Art Pages We Love Right Now

  1. It’s Nice That

An editorial platform founded in 2007 that champions artists, photographers, and magazines. Consider the platform a one-stop-shop for everything creative and currently trending.

  1. Nancy Spector

A curator, art historian, and author, Nancy is the chief curator at the Brooklyn Museum, New York. Her stunning Instagram is a perfect window into the galleries of America and other parts of the world. 

  1. Art Basel

An international fair staged across Miami, Hong Kong, and Basel, the fair’s official Instagram page is a treat to the eyes for all lovers of art and beauty. 

  1. KEIN magazine

A magazine based in Istanbul, KEIN’s Instagram page is perfect for fans of provocative art. From pop culture to photoshop, the magazine features a diverse blend of different art forms. 

(P.S: If you love political artwork, this account is for you!)

Jaidev Pant is a third-year student of Psychology and Media at Ashoka University. He is interested in popular culture and its intersections with politics, gender, and behaviour.

Picture Credits: Social Cut

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).

Issue 19

Oops, I Got Influenced Again!

Who thought when Oscar Wilde talked about “immoral influence” or Shakespeare pressed on “heavenly influence” the word would one day change its meaning forever. For them, it meant concepts such as the effect of heavenly bodies on humans or invading someone’s thoughts. Etymologically, the word “influence” comes from the Latin word influere meaning in ‘into’ + fluere ‘to flow’, meaning inward flow. Today, the word is not just a verb but a career, a job description. Influencers have evaded every sphere of our life. Our decisions, choices, and style revolve around their Instagram grids. But who qualifies as an influencer? What does it mean to be an Influencer? 

We can always say that Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian are influencers because people adapt their style. But is that all there is to being an influencer, people adapting your style? Influencing today has evolved due to the emergence of social media, especially Instagram and TikTok. Small videos of people doing things that are not that exceptional or unique become hyper-popular within hours, earning them the label of “influencer.” Popularity, then, seems to be an indicator of being an influencer. Popularity, however, is a subjective concept. One can be famous in a particular area but completely unknown in another. In order to tackle this confusion, OpenAxis decided to have conversations with people who are doing the work of social media influencing. Shaina Ahuja (@shainace) is a Fashion Influencer who has worked with famous brands like L’Oreal and Daniel Wellington. She describes an influencer as a person with high-quality content, a decent following, and confidence among many things. Does it mean that anybody with these characteristics is an influencer? No. Shaina goes on to add that Influencing is a career, and not just anyone can turn up and call themselves an influencer. They need to be genuine, committed to their audience and have a positive impact. Influencing comes with a lot of responsibilities– one needs to stand for a cause, push for positive change and engage in brand promotions.

Hiten Noonwal, (@hiten.noonwal) is a gender-fluid performing artist known for their avant-garde style and for being a Fashion educator. They have worked for Ritu Kumar before becoming an independent artist, and for them, being an influencer means self-acceptance, commitment, and being fearless. “You have to love your art and be proud of your work” are their words. Popularity, for them, is not a parameter of being an influencer, instead, it is gaining the right audience. They go on to say that self-validation is the key, and if one cannot influence themselves, they cannot influence others. Influencer then does not have a standard definition. It has layers, levels, and fields. 

“Every new collaboration is an opportunity for me”

Shaina Ahuja 

Shaina tells us that she started her work back when she was in Grade 10 before Instagram was so popular, and TikTok never existed. She began on Facebook and today she can proudly say that her years of hard work has begun paying off.

For Hiten, the work was tougher because of their identity. Being a queer influencer in a heteronormative society is not only tough but dangerous for one’s mental and physical health. People don’t see your work or art, but your gender or sexuality first. They go on to assert, “Queer People are fierce”. To be an influencer one needs to be fierce. People will always criticize your work, art, and job, but you need to rise above those obstacles and emerge successfully. 

“Queer People are fierce”

Hiten Noonwal

Shaina and Hiten both agree on some common elements that one should have for being an influencer but those common elements are not as important as individuality. These common elements include commitment, consistency, quality, understanding (your audience) and above all love for your job. It is not a fairytale, and the amount of hard work required to reach the level one needs to be able to endorse brands and commercialize one’s work is breathtaking. 

The conversations with Shaina and Hiten show the complexities of being an influencer and how the understanding of the word starkly differs from person to person. They both agree that posting thousands of photos, reels, and Tiktoks does not make one an influencer. One needs to understand the marketing industry, have a certain sense of panache, have good taste, and have quality in their work. One must also be ready to accept the responsibilities that are on one’s shoulders once people start following them. Above all, one must be confident, positive, and driven to achieve their goals and have a positive impact on the world.

Lakshya Sharma is a first year undergraduate student at Ashoka University. He is an economics and media studies student. Apart from his academic interests, he has keen interest in writing and fashion.

Image Credits: Thom Bradley

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).

Issue 19

From Strolling to Scrolling through Galleries: How Has the Art World Changed?

According to a 2021 survey, social media users form 57% of the world’s population. Over the last decade, art and culture on social media have journeyed through several aesthetics and ideals. A canvas has been replaced by a screen, a paintbrush by a smartpen and the intricacies of brushstrokes and handmade forms are waning. User-generated content has become the primary focus. Artists’ styles are fueled by the need to please the audience, as what appeals to them is what will get noticed. Appreciation is now marked by ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ versus technique and skill. 

These broadened digital platforms gave birth to new genres, like experiential art where the piece relies on its ability to be captured by a phone and deemed Instagram worthy. Success is measured by reposts, comments and the audience’s ability to repurpose a piece for their personal social media, falling prey to a consumer-oriented approach. Yayoi Kusama, pioneering Instagram art sensation, has developed several such immersive experiences, attracting global audiences. While such installations have been a huge success worldwide, with millions of trending hashtags, are they only working to fit consumer ideals and seek engagement ? Can Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirror’ rooms be compared to Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’? Are his immersive pieces mere attempts to appease the masses?

A recent study traces through these shifts in art spaces, audiences and aesthetics, where researchers Lachlan Macdowall and Kylie Budge say: 

Instagram shifts the spaces, scale, speed, and terms of visual culture. It generates new terms (#instaframe) and forms (the selfie) and creates and organizes new audiences. Overall, Instagram affects the institutions of the art world.” 

The boons and banes of social media in the art world are a tipping scale, the unspoken impact of which remains in the nature of creating and experiencing art. The limitations of Instagram’s square grid, curated exposure through algorithms, and repetitive styles restrict accessibility and dilute creativity. Artists design pieces to fit the 1:1 dimensions of an Instagram post, using it as a basis to create, consequently limiting the scope of their ideas. In fact, consumers are only shown what an algorithm chooses to expose them to, based on their previous engagement. This limited exposure tempts artists to design within a niche aesthetic, which receives the most views, giving way to monotony.

While the media has given people an equal and accessible medium to engage with art, the digital divides remain. Boosting posts on Instagram requires significant payments, while promotion and management are now the job and expense of the artist. They are required to spend anything between a few hundred to forty thousand rupees daily to promote each post for a menial financial return, making it a luxury only some can afford. In fact, with the increasing need to create and market art digitally by using technological tools like Apple Procreate and other software, is the art industry still retaining its “elitist” roots? 

Increased accessibility also enabled the commercialisation of art, and an entrepreneurial mindset among artists who now sell and commission artwork for brands in advertising and marketing gigs, making them more of a commodity than before. Social media feeds act as portfolios, thus putting a tremendous emphasis on not merely the physical piece but its social media appearance.

Social media has been taking the art world by storm for over a decade now. NFTs  (non-fungible tokens) however, made their mark in 2021 with sales valued at approximately 25 billion.  In several instances, artists have been hesitant to upload artwork online due to a lack of protection against piracy, theft and copyrights. NFTs by providing bonds of authenticity acts as a solution but is now being wrongly equated with art. 

Everything ranging from a tweet to a selfie to a hand-painted canvas is sold for millions of dollars. Everyone is a creator, right from your next-door neighbour who posts pictures of her cat every day to a famous artist uploading their painting. The exclusivity of art has been overshadowed by the agency of online media.

Social media and NFTs together have created a clutter of content online, with no filters or screening system but much rather an abundance. This commodification has undermined the uniqueness and scarcity of creations, stealing away the very roots of purchase; demand.  

This begs the question- why will a consumer pay millions of dollars to purchase a piece of art, which can be downloaded, shared or printed for free? 

The rising hype around NFTs only increases the impending threat on physical artwork. Pushing the boundaries of artistic trade, they continue to endanger museums and galleries. While sceptics have held their ground, globally NFTs have snuck their way into auctions, art fairs and online marketplaces including social media. 

NFTs continue to sanitize and hamper the creativity and aesthetics of art. Auctions like the Gobardhan Ash collection in Prinseps Mumbai sold both physical and blockchain versions of pieces. Celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan have launched collections, businessmen have created NFT exclusive marketplaces like Wazirx all furthering the extinction of natural art forms. NFTs cater to consumers’ laziness, and the growing demand for online retail by providing an easy way to purchase assets like art, without the need for storage.
Social media and NFTs align on their agenda of agency and access of art to all. Platforms like Twitter have allowed NFTs as profile pictures, Youtube distributed them to key influencers and Reddit is in the process of doing the same. Artists have eagerly joined the NFT craze adopting a commercial lens towards art. Higher rates of return and surety of financial gains have caught artists attention. The slowly fading presence of innovation-driven artwork will accelerate once social media platforms also start selling NFTs, reducing them to mere means of monetary gain and not displays of unique talent.

Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and travelling.

Picture Credit: Unsplash

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).

Issue 18

Money, Money, Money- Always Funny in the Twitter World!

Editors : Jaidev Pant, Lakshya Sharma and Maahira Jain.

Issue 18

1 Like = 1 Vote? Election Campaigning in the Time of Social Media

The project of liberal democracy finds an unlikely candidate in independent India. The adoption of democracy in a post-colonial and economically backward state has baffled scholars for decades. There has been considerable debate over how such a form of government came about in a country that was still healing from the bruises of its colonial past. A key feature of this democratic setup was free and fair elections. Independent India held its first general elections in 1951. Over the next few decades, the nation was witness to various social movements, secessionist attempts by different states, attacks from enemies within and external to its territorial boundary.  The only constant fixture was elections. 

Much of what forms a part of the run-up to the great Indian election is roadshows, speeches among large crowds, and rallies. Be it Indira Gandhi’s famous Garibi Hatao campaigns, Rajiv Gandhi’s fatal meeting with the public in Chennai, or Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s memorable speeches, interactions with the public have been at the core of campaigning in India. However, with the arrival of the Bharatiya Janata Party as the contender for the general elections in 2014, social media became the buzzword. The horrors of UPA 2 had turned the public opinion against them. In a term marred by scams, corruption, and the horrific handling of the Nirbhaya case, it was evident that the Congress government had been brought down to its knees. The BJP capitalized on this anti-government sentiment and launched widespread multimedia and social media campaigns. These advertisements used references from popular movies and television shows to grab the attention of younger voters. The BJP eventually went on to win the election and was elected for the second time in 2019.

Post-2019 their social media presence increased exponentially. The infamous IT cell of the BJP was involved in numerous online campaigns against dissenters. The BJP has arguably benefited from the social media boom in India. Prime Minister Modi himself garnered around 46.6 million followers on Twitter. The party has created many pages about their candidates and campaigns across multiple social media platforms, designed to target individuals between the ages of 18-30.

The manner in which social media has helped political parties in micro-targeting voters is particularly interesting. After the pandemic hit India, rallies, and roadshows had to be significantly restricted. As a result, parties turned to various forms of media for the dissemination of information. During my work with the Trivedi Center for Political Data, I worked on a project that dealt with social media usage by political parties. It focussed on annotations of political ads from the Facebook ad library. My work involved meticulously combing through around 2500 advertisements by various political parties and categorizing them according to their content, target audience, tone, and authenticity of these advertisements. I was tasked with looking into the West Bengal Assembly elections of 2021. The main parties were the BJP, the TMC, the CP(I)M, and the INC. While every election campaign is different depending upon the context and the state that is going to the polls, some trends are broadly similar in most states.

The BJP continues to rely on Narendra Modi as their “X” factor. Their state campaigns rarely mention the candidate who is actually contesting. The narrative is focused on the Modi factor. Slogans like “aapka har vote directly Modi ko jayega” have helped popularize this rhetoric,  creating the illusion that irrespective of who is contesting, the people should show their approval for Prime Minister Modi by voting for the BJP. Campaigns of regional parties like the TMC are centered around the cult of the chief minister. This has led to the creation of apps like “Didir Doot” which was launched by the TMC to help CM Mamata Bannerjee connect with the public. Along with these technological changes, parties have increasingly used pop culture references to appeal to the youth. The BJP recently launched an ad campaign against Mamata Bannerjee called “Pishi Jaao” which sounds eerily similar to the popular song Bella Ciao of Netflix’s Money Heist (2017) fame. The catchy tune is chosen to connect and target the youth as the electorate. Be it the AAP or the Shiv Sena, all parties are committed to increasing their social media presence through tweets by ministers or creating memes. A good example is the #DidYouKnow campaign  by the Shiv Sena to raise awareness before the 2017 municipal elections. Social media has also been vital in propagating the party’s ideas beyond their immediate electoral goals. It has become an easy device to discredit their opponents since it allows them methods of representation beyond just speeches. A useful manifestation of this is the misogynistic tone that characterized the BJP’s campaign in West Bengal in 2021. The fact that the opponent in question was a woman, prompted the party to attack her character and make derogatory remarks about her personal life. Male candidates are more often than not accused of corruption and inefficiency whereas women are character assassinated. This isn’t state-specific either. UP’s former Chief Minister Mayawati has also been at the receiving end of such disrespect. 

However, this is not the only way in which parties use social media. A recent investigation by The Wire revealed that the BJP was reportedly using an app called TekFog to infiltrate various social media platforms to plant stories about themselves and spread misinformation about the opposition parties. The application was used to target opposing voices. The aforementioned IT Cell has used this application to spread hateful comments about women who have spoken out against the party.  By saving private citizens’ information, it was instrumental in making hashtags that target members of marginalized communities. The Big Brother-like phenomenon should come as warning bells for a country that has already been considered as the latest case of democratic backsliding. While we mourn the gradual erosion of democracy in India, it is important to remember what George Orwell wrote in 1984, “they could spy upon you night and day, but if you kept your head, you could still outwit them. With all their cleverness, they had never mastered the secret of finding out what another human being was thinking.”

Ranjini Ghosh is an undergraduate student majoring in Political Science at Ashoka University. She is currently working with the Trivedi Center for Political Data. Her work involves categorizing and analyzing candidate data for the upcoming Goa and Manipur Assembly elections.

Picture Credits: BGSU News

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).

Issue 18

Keeping Up With Covid

After a brief period of coronavirus restrictions due to a surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant, England recently returned to Plan A, lifting mask-mandates and other coronavirus restrictions as its Covid-19 planning shifts towards living with the virus. “As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told lawmakers. His decision to allow citizens to resume daily activities stems from a successful booster dose rollout and the Omicron variant’s current nature, which drove cases up to record levels in December without increasing the number of hospitalizations and casualties in the same manner.

Several other European countries such as Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain have followed suit to consider public health and the effects of lockdown-like measures on the daily lives of citizens, businesses, and the economy. Whether the European blueprint can be applied to other nations, vaccination rates seem to be a decisive factor in deciding how safe it is to begin living with the virus.

After a devastating second wave in India, thousands of hospital beds were converted to ICU beds, anticipating a rise in Covid-19 cases fuelled by the omicron variant. Almost a month after the onset of the third wave, most Covid ICU beds across the country remain empty. Trends across Europe follow suit, with Omicron cases resulting in fewer hospitalizations. This begs the question – can India begin to live with the virus, and what will our new normal look like? While India’s Covid handling is commendable, the country has been able to fully vaccinate over 71 crore people, which given its large population, yields a vaccination coverage of only 51.7%. It seems unlikely that India will adopt a no-mask and no-restrictions policy anytime soon. However, with decreasing active cases and hospitalizations, the need for a shift in strategy and policy measures is evident. India’s priority at this stage should be to revive its economy and continue to strengthen its health care systems. India has shuffled between two extremes throughout the pandemic: undue panic and extreme carelessness.

There is a growing need to find a middle path – living safely with Covid, and taking into consideration the reality of how the pandemic has changed our socioeconomic fabric. Since the first Covid case was detected in India on January 27, 2020, the country faced a two-month-long national lockdown, heavy restrictions, and curbs on citizens’ mobility. With the overnight closure of the country, Indians were forced to think quickly and collectively decided to accept the new way of living, which put the power of human adaptability to test. Today, the new normal is mutating with the virus. As we repeatedly went back into lockdowns, descended from having a semblance of normalcy right back into isolation, we were forced to find a way to keep on living and adapting.

A Bengaluru-specific study found that while night and weekend curfews delayed the spread of the virus, eventually, Omicron would spread and affect the same number of people it would have without restrictions. It might be time to stop implementing lockdowns whose primary function is to avoid overwhelming health care systems. Following the decline in cases, states such as Maharashtra, Delhi, and Karnataka have begun easing restrictions with many reopening schools and colleges and adjusting curfews. India also began second dose inoculations for 15-18-year-olds on January 31, 2022 as a step to ensure a safer return to physical classrooms.

The high transmissibility of the Delta and Omicron variants has made it clear that the goal of zero-Covid is not possible without stringent public-health measures and restrictions. Civil society must collectively set new goals to facilitate a shift from pandemic to endemic. While targets to reduce the burden on healthcare systems continue to be necessary, there is a need for new metrics to be used to ascertain the goals that account for the impact of Covid-19 on the daily lives of people, such as missed workdays, closed businesses, or school absenteeism. Hospitalizations and ICU occupancies should be monitored closely, but mass testing may no longer be required.

Until India reaches 90% double vaccination coverage and protects vulnerable sections with a booster dose, preventive measures such as masking-up, maintaining social-distancing, and making use of self-testing kits will remain a part of people’s daily routines as citizens start stepping out. These will aid the government in implementing policies that enable society to start living with the virus. 

The fear of falling sick enabled the world to develop a cashless society. Being social creatures, necessity drove us online, accelerating the infrastructure for virtual interactions. College students worldwide have spent entireties of their college experiences learning on Zoom, with many even graduating virtually. This has opened up the possibilities of developing the proper infrastructure for remote learning to those unable to access education. Similarly, offices moved entirely to work from home, showing that countries can be more productive and have more meaningful work experiences working remotely rather than in-person. A study showed that 82% of employees preferred working from home rather than returning to the workplace, and hybrid work environments are here to stay. Mental health was brought to the forefront of conversations as recognized by the 2022 budget, which will boost the mental healthcare sector in India.

The need for interaction led to a virtual entertainment sector with virtual concerts, stand-up shows, and live streaming. This proves that the pandemic has caused a shift in the way businesses will function moving forward. Video calls became a way to bring people together for everything, from birthdays and weddings to funerals, allowing people never to miss a crucial moment. Covid has normalized the online behaviours of millennials and Gen-Z for all generations, assisting the transition to the metaverse that is coming our way. As our normal keeps adapting, as tricky as it has been, it is also exciting to see the many ways in which our experiences with Covid will lead to progress in innovation, infrastructure, and quality of life.

Reya Daya is a third-year student, studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and 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).

Issue 17

Photos: What’s Stopping You From Rediscovering the Natural World Near You?

Nature yearns to be noticed and appreciated. The lockdown has made us cherish its ceaseless charm and hear its overwhelming cry for help before it’s too late.

Photo Credits: Aditi Singh

Photo Credits: Maitreyi Sreenivas

The gift of nature photography is that it explores nature, the backdrop to our being that we often gloss over. What’s stopping you from rediscovering the world?

Photo Credits: Vijayaditya Singh Rathore

Photo Credits: Udayan Mehra

These photos first appeared on Caperture’s Instagram page. They have been republished with the permission of Caperture, Tarang and the photographers.

Issue 12

Armed with Phones and Spreadsheets, How These Teenagers Took on the Second Wave

It’s 5 am and the DMs in Dasnoor Anand’s inbox are overflowing — requests for ICU beds in Pune, an enquiry about Remdesivir in Mumbai, search for oxygen cylinders in Lucknow, and many more such please for help. Anand tries her best to reply to everyone. She has only three hours to sleep before it’s time to wake up for online lectures.

This is what April and May 2021 looked like for several teenagers part of student organisation ‘Silence The Violence (STV)’.

With the second wave of COVID-19 slamming into India with an unexpected ferocity, the members of STV have been saving lives while simultaneously attending lectures and preparing for exams. The group consists of girls from all over India, ranging from those in Class 11 to those in first year of university.

In their bid to help out, STV (@stvorg) amplified the availability of resources like hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen, and even tiffin services on its Instagram account. The team gathered information through Twitter handles, personal contacts and other youth organisations, and grouped resources by city or state. They called each hospital and oxygen supplier personally to verify details before posting it. On a backup account (@stvorg_backup), a colour-coded list of resources was regularly updated – green for hospital beds, grey for ambulance services, yellow for food and blue for oxygen.

The motivation behind this venture? Nandini Nimodiya, 17, a member of the Crisis Team answered, “We are all students stuck at home. Social media is the only power we have.”

The team started with two-hour shifts but had to dial it up to five-eight hours due to the number of requests. Each day, STV got approximately 100 leads for different resources from all over the country. Out of these, half got exhausted by the time they called to verify. But of the remaining 50, STV was passing on 15-20 resources to people messaging for help.

“Even if we’re able to save one life at the end of the day, it makes everything worth it,” said Anand, 19, founder of STV, adding that they managed to help roughly 15 people daily.

The group made use of the latest ‘guide’ feature on Instagram, creating city-wise guides for all essential services. A guide is a collection of posts from various accounts that have information about a particular city’s resources. Followers of STV found this specific and timely. Shreya Joshi, 22, a resident of Pune says, “I wanted to find an oxygen concentrator for my father.  All the contacts I had were busy or switched off. That’s when I found  STV’s ‘Pune Guide’ on Instagram. It directed me to verified suppliers, and I got what I needed.”

STV started making city-wise guides when they realised that residents of small towns did not know whom to contact for resources. They started with major cities like Pune and Delhi but have compiled 12-city guides so far. They have even expanded to state level guides, with over 15 state guides in place, including Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand.

STV’s expansive list of resources has helped make it a fast-growing account on Instagram. Over the course of five days, the number of followers shot up from 1,200 to 10,000. Currently, they’re reaching 11,100 people via social media.

Since the number of SOS calls has decreased, STV is now devoting time to spreading awareness about COVID-19. This is a major part of its threefold mission statement ‘Action-Advocacy-Awareness’. The volunteers are making informative posts on topics like ‘Covid and pregnancy’ or ‘mental health in Covid’. STV held its first online mental health event ‘Horizon’, where it partnered with certified psychologists to provide three days of free counselling sessions, seminars and workshops. This was followed by an online concert where young artists came together to unwind.

The team consists of 45 members between the ages of 16 and 20. Of the 45, 20 members have been completely devoted to the Covid crisis. Fifty additional volunteers were also roped in to help. Most of the members are from Mumbai and Pune, followed by a few in Andhra Pradesh and the Northeast. Over the past few weeks, STV has also managed to recruit volunteers from Karnataka and Kerala too.

Around 85% of the team is made up of women, with an all-girls core team. A point of grievance for these young girls is that they are often misgendered by people who contact them. They are addressed as ‘sir’ or ‘bhaiyya’. “We tell them we are women led, and that they can call us ‘ma’am’ or ‘didi‘,” says Nimodiya.

Project S.A.F.E (@project_s.a.f.e) is another all-girls organisation that has been amplifying Covid resources, specifically in Pune. This team consists of five girls from the Pimpri-Chinchwad College of Engineering. The girls spent all day finding resources – except from 3 pm-5 pm, as that’s when they were writing their exams! These engineering students collaborated with their friends interning at medical colleges to provide people with accurate information about availability of beds and medicine.

With 20 requests daily, at least 15 patients were guided to the required resources. Devika Chopdar, 20, founder of Project S.A.F.E says, “I didn’t know social media could have such a huge impact. So far, my profile has only been about myself. Seeing people receive life-saving facilities through it is a new experience.”

These local Covid helpers received a request for a ventilator bed at 1 am one night. None of the hospitals were answering their phones. Project S.A.F.E then circulated the request on social media. Within the next one hour, the Pune online community procured a ventilator and passed this information on to the critical patient.

Student communities across the country stepped up to fight the second wave. Delhi University’s Miranda House created a Covid helpline to assist residents of Delhi with quick updates on resources. A group of 22 student artists and poets from all over India came together for a night of music and poetry titled, ‘In The Dark Times There Will be Singing’, and raised Rs 1,47,000. All funds were donated to communities hardest hit by the second wave of COVID-19. Generating finances, even from outside the country. US-based Princeton alumnus Shreyas Lakhtakia and Julu Beth Katticaran, offered career counselling sessions to raise money for Covid charities in India.

The Indian student community that aided the country in its hour of need is here to stay and is only growing stronger. Even the girls of STV are planning more posts, events, and community building in the months to come. All while preparing for the upcoming Class 12 board exams, of course!

Featured image credit: antiopabg/Pixabay; Editing: LiveWire

This article has been republished from LiveWire with permission of the author.

Aditi Dindorkar is a second-year student at Ashoka University. She is pursuing a major in English and Creative Writing, and a minor in Media Studies. This report is written as part of her course, Introduction to Newswriting and Reporting.

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).

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).