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Is Social Media Making Us More Antisocial?

We humans, as social animals communicate, share, and through our ability of speech and reason create a complex network of interdependent relationships with fellow humans and thus create the society as we know it. We love to exhibit ourselves, and we also love to know what others amongst us are doing; we imitate and evolve. We have been doing this since our existence. This very exercise is what created great human civilisations of high culture.

With the dawn of the new century a new technology was developed, the Internet. It also created ‘Social Media’ an aiding platform facilitating our human endeavour of sharing. Social media for an individual is an agency, symbolised by the control of computers and its communicative possibilities to satisfy our desire to be connected with the world. It provides us with tools to present our lives as we like them to be and get appreciated for it too. But, is it really what it is? Is it merely a tool? Or has it become an indispensable part our lives?

Social media is impounding us in our own pleasure. Every time we see a ‘like’ our brain releases the ‘feel good, motivating’ chemical substance ‘Dopamine’ making us high on the pleasure of being ‘liked’. This is the very substance which activates our brain receptors while getting high on intoxication.

In the past one and a half decade, we have practically adapted our lifestyle to social media. Social media today has become an essential part of our lives so much, so we have started spending the majority of our day’s leisure hours on social media. According to a report an individual spends around two hours daily on social media. We tend to become frustrated, distracted and angry if we are unable to check notifications whenever our phone blinks; we are hopelessly hooked to our devices. Our daily actions, our thought process, our communication with our family, friends and others, and our ability to choose are all being influenced by our social media usage.

It breaks my heart watching friends constantly scrolling down through their smartphones while hanging out, a couple on a romantic date busy uploading pictures and not sharing smiles; families reduced to dinner time menial conversations etc. Social media is effectively making us more ‘unsocial’; it’s dividing us as we demand from it more. We are risking the intimate aspects of our personalities (communication) that make up our distinct identities.

Presenting Ourselves By Pretending

On the network, we undergo an internal monologue while scrolling through the pages. We see people posting their vacation pictures, them being on a date, at the party, and we appreciate their activity by liking it, in turn, we have the urge to be liked the same way. Thus, we start posting only the admirable things happening with us – our highlight reel, or sometimes create something fake and make it appear real. We may not even be travelling, but a simple picture with a sunset in a park in the middle of the city becomes our hill station, copying a random quote from a famous book makes us a bibliophile, we unnecessarily associate ourselves with things we don’t do and what we are not.

This pretentiousness is due to the compulsion created by social media to be appreciated and liked on the network by others. This leads to a very serious personality withdrawal. We lose our distinctness and obliviate from our own self – becoming an impression of the contrived personality.

Aiding The ‘Attention Economy’

Social media has fast developed from a platform of sharing human experiences to being a market of capturing and reselling attention. The social media companies are devising tools to make their users spend more time on their network, which allows them to track our behaviour and predict our choices. They then target ads and suggestions towards us – which we end up watching because it suits our interest and curiosity, and surprisingly these suggestions turn out to be useful. This makes us more vulnerable – because by knowing our behavioural pattern they may also have the capacity to channelise our behaviour. The recent global testimony of Facebook and other data storage companies selling user information even to the political parties is very alarming.

Behavioural Contagion

While browsing through social media, we tend to click on content which has a certain number of views – because we believe if so many people have watched it, it should be interesting. Not only that, but we also tend to react similarly to how the majority of the people have reacted to it. This has caused serious electoral problems, for example, the 2016 US general elections. The US social media was flooded by millions of posts dedicated to the false imagery of US being under threat and Trump being the only messiah for the Americans. This polarised the US like never before and also created an atmosphere of hostility resulting in many events like the recent massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburg. Something similar can be seen India with the increasing mob lynching and cow vigilante attacks. This makes us a misinformed electorate, vulnerable to wicked politicians using us for their ends.

Practical Invulnerability

Most of us do have our reservations to many things; we don’t like certain aspects of a person or a people. However, in real life, we incline to be more tolerant even if we don’t like something. Social media gives an individual practical invulnerability to say whatever he/she wants without any moral responsibility. We see innumerable, unacceptable and vicious rants on people and celebrities alike. Popularly known as the ‘internet troll’. The keyboard warriors wage war in the comment section openly galvanising people. They post false facts to tarnish the image of a community or a person, publish fake news and threaten people with death threats. Social media thus becomes hate expedite, having no responsibility whatsoever on the racial, communal, homophobic, casteist obnoxious individuals and groups using social media to bully, demean and demonise vulnerable sections of the society. All because they know they won’t be prosecuted, and they are invulnerable.

FOMO: The Fear Of Missing Out

We are so intricately tethered to social media that we have established a psychological dependence on the network because of the compulsive concern of missing out on an opportunity of social interaction. It often results in anxiety and depression because we are continuously concerned about missing out and if we do, we make excuses to reach back. Now, this is very dangerous because the network companies are constantly finding more ways to keep you hooked up on their sites and we are becoming addicted to it. Social media sites have become a significant contributing factor to the FOMO sensation.

“People develop negative feelings and emotions from social media sites because of envy toward others’ posts and lives. Social media has created an easy-to-access, centrally located spot for people to constantly refresh their feeds and find out what others are doing at that exact moment.” (Krasnova, Hanna et al. 2013)

Snapchat has dreadfully used this in its business model and seems perfectly benefiting from the human flesh. Social media users become envious and even get depressed by seeing the “perfect life” of others. Before social media, most people only had limited access to what their friends were doing which usually turned out to be similar to what they themselves were going through. This causes severe depression and feeling of loneliness in spite of having just enough people around.

Distortion Of Reality And Impairing Our Judgment Skills

Hegel argued that “our objects of inquiry are not ‘truth’ or ‘meaning’ but rather configurations of consciousness. These are figures or patterns of knowledge, cognitive and practical attitudes, which emerge within a definite historical and cultural context.” Thus, social media has become a cultural lens through which we construct or distort reality. We want to see only what pleases our eyes. We consume information that matches our opinions, being exposed to conflicting views we acquire new information enhancing our creativity. The desire to prove we are right and the pressure to maintain it trumps over open-mindedness. Social media filters out information, we see things that our friends have seen and liked, and thus we access only a bubble of information partly of our own choosing, and people tend to form mistaken beliefs based on that. The proliferation of such information perpetuates ignorance than knowledge. Excessive use of social media not only makes us feel lonely but also makes us ideologically isolated.

As apprehensive as it may seem social media is not going anywhere, I’m not saying that you must get off the network but know what it is doing to us. Take a step back and analyse are you becoming a victim of social media are you being governed by the technology and then change yourself. Have a healthy social media usage, don’t accommodate nonsensical behaviour of sneaking into other’s lives and envying it, identify if you are being a bully or being bullied on the social media and limit your activity accordingly. Don’t take any information on its face value – do a reality check yourself.

We need real arms around our shoulders embracing us gracefully not any virtual hug, we need face to face direct connection where we can sense the other person’s feeling through their expressions, we need the friend and family gatherings to be one with fun and joy, and sharing stories and emotions. We need dates to be romantic and not just a couple scrolling through their phones.

We don’t know where it would lead us, but we know at what social costs social media is providing its services to us. So, be a smart user. Try to have real-life conversations with people you love and care about and let those conversations go beyond the emojis and character limits.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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