Social Media In The Times Of Quarantine: A Tale Of Poison and Wine

When the place you look to connect with is also what breaks you down - where do we go?

3 min read
When loneliness kicks in, how do you keep away from toxic tweets?

There isn’t much to it, as a person - I crave contact. There’s something about having another face acknowledging your humour with a hearty laugh, something about sharing insights of your day with Twitter and it resulting in RTs (god knows that takes a lot), something about waving a bored “hi” at your colleagues at work, something about rituals, something about connecting as people.

Be it smiling at a random stranger when you’re out on your evening stroll, or sharing a look of empathy with a face pressed against yours in the Mumbai local, there’s something about putting up a Facebook status and having thousands say - “That’s so me, read this @xyz!”

We’re social beings, we crave love, we crave anger, we crave reactions, we crave connections. Unfortunately, with the quarantine, we lost most of it.

As the COVID-19 hit, real-life faces faded away, and we submerged ourselves into fear and paranoia. All that was left to cling to human connection was social media. Sadly, what should have been a respite from the sum total of all that comes from working from home, jhadu, pocha, belan - was not all fun and games. As my average screen time shot up (I began to compensate for the lack of physical proximity to human beings), my mental health was left in shambles. Because you see, unlike the real world, social media lacks balance. Here, people aren’t afraid of being truly terrible, here, people vent their frustrations, here they’re out to make punching bags out of you.

Rest assured, the vitriol most people will type out and tweet to you, they probably wouldn’t say to you face to face. We tend to soften our ideas and ideologies, nobody rational goes out actively looking for conflict in real life. We’re all trying to get home.

But that changes when all you’re doing is staying home. And hey, this isn’t to say that in a healthier world people were nicer. Nah, but we had the luxury of signing off and going to see the people who make us feel wanted. Now - it is just you spiralling into an endless pit of defensive talk.

We’re all prophets here. Hardly anyone on social media platforms is discussing their favourite flavour of ice cream. With the quarantine and our very Indian mentality of trying to cover everything on the face of this Earth into a communal bullfight, we managed to do it with a pandemic too. Even I, a person who is often subjected to online hostility and abuse, didn’t expect this one. Rest assured, we managed. Sitting inside our homes, eating off that one polarised channel we chose to subscribe to, we fuelled our anger and frustrations and lashed out at others. For thousands like me, there’s no place left to go.

What was meant to be a place of comfort, a place of conversations, has turned into a dark endless pit of anger and disdain for all that is not you.

Everyone and everything that slightly irks our sensibilities online quickly becomes the “other”, and unlike in real life, we don’t have to “put up with them”, so we lash out.

We go all out. We don’t think twice before swearing, before bullying, before generalising. Our racism, sexism, communalism - you know, the bits that all of us have and are hopefully trying to change about ourselves - we further instigate it all. Because we don’t have to see the crying faces once we put our phones away. It is an excuse, you see. A screen protects you from real-life consequences of things you say. A worldwide pandemic saves you from any guilt. After all, you’re suffering too, let’s hurt the other.

So What Now? Where Do We Go?

I ask this in desperation. I am tired most days, the hate gets to me - or is starting to. I would earlier try and make sense of it. Now, the punches hurt. Somebody wise once said, in those life-is-bigger-than-pain kinds of books: “Life doesn’t come with erasers.” And while we can hit that delete button on the nasty words we wrote, we can’t make people not feel what they did when they first read it. I could try and find respite in books or maybe I should try gardening. In the hope that soon the world is going to be healthy again (well, as much as it is on most days at least) and that perhaps then I wouldn’t be crawling back to social media to find balance in life. In the hope that one day we won’t just be healed from the pandemic, but also the hate in our hearts. Yet today, it is difficult to look away. Yet today, it is hard to cut off.

Replacing people with things is an art most of us are still to learn.

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