The Social Media Gig

When I see all the feverish online activity on social media, I wonder whether we can at all entertain the idea that we ourselves might be one of the fatal victims of the virus any day/any time now. Because what all the enthusiastic announcements assume, or at least seem to convey, is that this is an alternate state of being, just for the time being. We’ll all meet happily on the other side of Corona… but till then, let’s do this!!

The logic behind

This is not to say that I don’t understand the logic behind them. Some of these events are for sheer survival – for example, by bookstores, which have been thrown out of business by the pandemic. Many others are simply online versions of physical events that were already planned and were supposed to happen (such as those by cultural organizations); but since they can’t, organizers have opted for this only other alternative. Several are events by truly passionate people about work they love to do and it’s their determination to continue doing that, no matter what, that make them go ‘live’ (this is all across the board, including both professionals and artists). Then there are those events – meagre in number – which directly benefit a cause related to Corona. 


A great majority, however, are webinars that are forced down one’s throat by the institution/s one serves. Since I am an academic and a big part of those in my professional network are also Facebook friends, I obviously get notified most about academic webinars -- the maximum being from my city (Kolkata) and home state (West Bengal) in India. They are, with some exceptions, frantic efforts by departments to prove their legitimacy to their managements/higher authorities (whether private or public) and undertaken primarily to gain visibility in social media. All departments across all institutions are working hard to continue the teaching/learning process in the face of huge limitations and challenges -- I know this for a fact. But telling the world “we are working” has somehow become more important than doing the work itself.

A lot of these departmental webinars are on syllabus-specific topics, delivered by experts. The aim is obviously to benefit students - which they do, apparently, going by the gushy post-event success stories. Some are not syllabus (or even subject) specific at all – where a leading practitioner of an art form or a leading scholar in a field is invited to speak. These are, however, less in number.

The trend of departmental webinars, on the other hand, will only continue in the new semester - as far as I can see - with colleges vying for more and more attention on social media. 

The only problem is that, that attention will increasingly be of students and teachers tired of being before the screen. After months of exclusive online communication/ learning/ entertainment, it is easy to develop screen fatigue. For harried teachers, dealing with the continuing impossibility of 'work from home', webinars on week days, weekday evenings or even weekends are equally difficult or cumbersome affairs: either one is working during those webinars or, if not working (either 'from' home or 'for' home) and have that elusive hour to themselves, would much rather sit blank on a balcony or watch the skies on a terrace, than sit before that blessed machine again! Unless, of course, one is participating in/organizing the webinar oneself, or is passionately interested in the topic or loves the speaker to death! For students, it is a bleaker picture. Young and raring to go, but cooped up in their homes, and facing horrendous uncertainty about their futures, they can't be blamed if webinars are not a priority with them - especially, the final year undergrad students, who have been left in the lurch even about their Exams. For first and second years, their motivation seems to be directly proportional to the insistence of their teachers to attend this or that webinar.

A surge in students' creativity

Artwork by Krishanu 
find them - and I'm speaking of my students here - more enthusiastic about their own activities on social media. And I quite like that! I laud the fact that some of them have taken the opportunity of the lockdown to dig deeper into their creative selves and are writing/ drawing/ singing/ dancing and posting them, and - most importantly - supporting each other’s work, on Facebook. 
I hope they continue doing that,

Aishika playing the ukelele


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