While ravaging the world in the present, the pandemic is also creating new boundaries and public spheres for a different kind of world in the future, one that couldn’t have been imagined before 2020. While techies can boast about how the pandemic has accelerated the innumerable opportunities presented by digital media, it is important to remember that it is not always about flying cars, is it?
The newly transforming digital world creates high expectations and sets pre-established notions for its people. As a final year student who studied three semesters online, I have personally seen these expectations creating ruptures between the personal and professional life for just a bunch of 20-year-olds.
We were expected to be high-functioning humans with little to no difficulties with access to and use of technology. The large scale at which digital technologies are being developed and used drives certain assumptions that are biased.
For example, assuming that a student from an average middle-class family would have a laptop with them for 5–6 hours of classes and an additional 3 hours for assignments and research. Even if they do, the laptop could be used by other family members, presenting an additional challenge to the student.
Although the problem of the digital divide was acknowledged at the beginning of the pandemic by experts and educational institutions, digital solutions are still being increasingly normalised — from ordering groceries to avoid stepping out to classes and internships, and more recently for booking slots for a vaccine.
With the second wave of Covid-19 in full effect, the vaccine provides a glimmer of hope, mainly for those who need to step outside to earn a day’s meals. While all of us managed to laugh at the inability to find a slot on the COWIN portal, it highlights the dire problem of indifference to people that cannot access such technologies.
In this race for survival, it’s those people who have come up with unique strategies such as telegram or email alerts for vaccines that are currently winning.
Although millennials and Gen-Z claim to be revolutionising this phenomenon even more, many of us are left out. The inability to submit assignments on time due to lack of stable internet was considered an “excuse” and had to be avoided at all costs because 20 marks internal submission was of utmost importance, obviously.
Although most of us managed to start and finish 60-70-page research papers in 3 months, some of us fell behind in this digital race as we couldn’t attend classes and access material for research. All they got in response was, “Why didn’t you tell us before?”
In the past year, the teaching faculty and educational institutions have been trying innovative methods to cope with the challenges presented to them. While some of these took the form of cancelling board exams or passing students based on internal marks, others resorted to shifting their teaching-learning processes online.
For example, colleges conducted their admission procedures in virtual mode to ensure the safety of students. But some of their rules mandated a “stable internet connection”, “no excuses such as a crashed laptop or power cut”, and to “be in a closed room with no ambient noise”.
Not only are such rules driven by a sense of privilege, failing to adhere to them could determine our future in a college that we dreamed of getting into.
The general optimism associated with digital technologies and their ability to change the world creates a trap for those generally excluded from the system — minority communities, rural populations, and many more. The obsession with assigning numbers to people and transforming everything into a database could eventually become a bleak reality for some.
As rightfully argued by Jenny Odell in her book How To Do Nothing, “What does it mean to construct digital worlds while the actual world is crumbling before our eyes?”