It has been a week since the implementation of the national lockdown owing to the coronavirus pandemic, and we are already all over the place, over-indulging in our favourite delicacies, facetiming our friends, engaging in various social media challenges and going live on Instagram every now and then. One might argue that such increased engagement with social media at a time which is suitable for self-reflection is inane and ridiculous. However, freelance artist and illustrator, Ms. Sangeetha Alwar thinks otherwise. She feels that we have had indulged ourselves enough on critiquing social media trends. It is time we accept social media for the purpose it serves, rather than condemning it for its limitations.
She further adds, “Social media is now doing what it was supposed to be doing, i.e., making the world smaller, albeit through tragedy.” To her, it is interesting to note how a generation “born into distraction and purposelessness”, is finding purpose through a sense of belonging. This is because when you are sequestered within your home and is out of touch with your near and dear ones, what matters most is the knowledge that somebody in another part of the world feels the same way. As human beings we crave for a sense of belonging which we hardly ever get in a capitalist structure that forces us to forego our individualities and function like a clockwork day in and day out. It is however not so ironical that it is ultimately a “tragedy”, and not a thing of joy that united us. Such is human nature in all its follies! Seeking a sense of “connectedness” or “belonging” through trauma has been the history of our country. Acceptance of mental health issues, as well as other health issues have been major points of connectedness that we have seen over the past few years. And such acceptance without much regard to social backlashes could be attributed to the presence of social media that has provided us a free platform and an independent voice.
However, there are downsides to social media as well. As someone teaching undergraduate students, Ms. Alwar has been in touch with the youth for a long time. She has observed how, over the years, they have lost touch with their hobbies, and instead resorted to engaging in so-called “productive” activities - activities that can be monetized. Such temperament can safely be attributed to the influence of capitalism, and its inherent diktat of disregarding anything that is devoid of any anticipation of monetary gain.
A spin-off of the larger capitalist structure, social media is an apparatus that lives by the same rules and regulations. Besides being a means of staying connected to people, it is also a platform which robs people of their peace of mind by showcasing impossible standards of beauty and productivity. This is exactly what we have succumbed to this quarantine season. Since people technically found ample time to do what they had always wanted to, they are suddenly met with the anxiety of not being able to utilize the time to the fullest. This kind of demand that we are making on ourselves is being amplified by the continuous reminders on social media on how to be more productive when you are at home and have your hands empty.
Such demands to increase our productivity during quarantine is a capitalist discourse, and serves to wreak havoc on our mental health. It is part of the string of logic we believe in so as to enforce a sense of routine in our lives, something that capitalist philosophy strongly endorses. This is what freelance illustrator, Sangeetha Alwar explores through her recent art on the lockdown, that has led to anxiety and mental health issues. Throwing light on the constant guilt-tripping we encounter on social media with regard to not doing enough, she says, “Treat this quarantine/social distancing as a way to heal, if you can, or as a chance to start anew. A lot of us might be forced to stay put in abusive homes without being able to get out and breathe. Do what you have to do. You don’t need to make something out of this time. Just be. Just breathe.”
“Self-isolation as a time of self-reflection” has become quite the go-to mantra for a number of people these last few days. However, to be able to think about quarantine as a time for being “productive” or “self-reflective” comes from a position of privilege. Such luxuries are only meant for people who do not have to worry about an empty stomach or a roof over their heads. It is time we get rid of such unnecessary burdens and help each other through the bad times.
An English professor by day and a Quasi-Modo look-alike while hunched over her iPad, Sangeetha spends most of her free time making art. A self-taught artist, she illustrates the world around her. She takes her humor like she takes her coffee - dark.
You can check out her Instagram here.
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