POST TIME: 13 January, 2022 10:50:54 AM
Charting an emotionally strong digital life ahead
Every new age calls for new age learning, formal and informal, conceptual or technological, liberal or functions. Today it is blended, a lot of it digital, constant without any fixed timings, often organic without any fixed syllabus, from multiple physical or digital or environmental sources, and novel each day now, more than ever before.
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury

Charting an emotionally strong digital life ahead

So, we are in a different phase of life and civilization with the most engulfing pandemic of the century overwhelming the entire mankind. Is it a qualitatively different life ahead for us? Can we be emotionally stable in the so-called New Normal? Many questions crowd our minds. And, sadly, in a class-divided society, we are not the same across all classes. The access to resources for a better life in this New Normal varies drastically and the pandemic has exposed the underbelly of the society all the more.

So, for a middle-class English educated largely urban Indian, what are the contours of this ‘New’ and how does s/he navigate these ahead? No easy answers there. But 10 points that come at the top of my mind are as follows.

First, going digital and getting faster on it is a must.

We think that have a laptop, a smart-phone, net-connectivity on phone and through wifi is be all and end all of digital life. Those are the basic resources, to what use we put them is the key. Digital life encompasses fast internet based work, online discussions and online multiple ways of networking, integrating the virtual and the augmented reality with the physical and seamlessly straddling all, using social media creatively, getting most routine or extra-ordinary services from shopping to government certificates or travel planning etc online, and digital ways of informal interaction too. These are easier said than done and needs quick adaptive skills and comfort with newer technologies. And even if you adapt fast, the eco-system around you shall be slow and may frustrate you in the short run. How do you smile it out, pace your work accordingly, help others to get digitally on board shall become very important. Such small things will determine your outcome and your new dimension of emotional bonding with the people you help.

Second, blended is the way to go finally in as many spheres of life as possible.

While digital emerges as the clear tech-platform, personal touch is always more through physical interactions and in-person meetings. In fact, every major activity shall go blended in times ahead (except for physical manufacturing of goods). From shopping to studying, consulting to mentoring, producing most services and some products to monitoring work: each of these and more shall have a digital avatar and will need to continue the physical meets and interaction or activities too, both blending without any hiccups. You will meet your doctor, lawyer, teacher, financial consultant, mentor, boss, employee, client, brand manager, general friends many times digitally and a few times face-to-face where the personal touch, the uncomfortable issues, the camaraderie, the heated debates, the casual laughter et al are ensured.

Third, cyber security against digital crimes and harassment is another must-know aspect of life ahead.

Each of us will now learn how to protect our banking transactions, our social media accounts, our online reputation, our personal property and relational data, etc. I am a novice yet in cyber security, but to lead an active and reasonably quality life, my ignorance cannot be my bliss. Even cyber law, legal implications of digital crimes and harassments, etc. would constitute a necessary training going ahead. We need not be unduly disturbed due to these, but schools and colleges will do well to include digital skills and self-protection in their life skills curricula ahead.

Fourth, get used to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Better, get to know these to use these for your own benefit.

Even before we realize we get to consume the same genre of music or cinema, we get to buy the same colors or designs, we get to read the same category of news or books, we get to meet the same set of friends online, and many wonder why is it show. Artificial intelligence picks up our early habits, machine learns our initial preferences, and prompts us to have more of the same. It will be good to understand this phenomenon first so that we do not get trapped in echo-chambers, then learn how it operates so that we can create multiple narratives or alternative digital worlds for ourselves, and finally will be great to master it so that we can put this to good use in our professional lives. Every one, please do online courses on digital learning, AI-ML and Cyber-security, irrespective of what you study or work on. These are now hygiene factors in the New Normal.

Fifth, reduce the routine work, increase the creative, connective and the innovative work ahead.

Machines can do the routine work better, faster and often cheaper. Allow people to help you as well which makes them earn in the process. Focus more on thinking laterally (brainstorming to determine the work to be done) and then vertically (doing the decided work creatively). Pick of basics of design thinking, create your own values and aesthetics, add a new dimension in your work as you move ahead, like that tasty dash of lemon in the routine daal-bhaat or fish curry-rice.

Sixth, reduce food intake, increase health regime, create more me-time with newer set of healthier habits.

Health was never such a dominating priority as it is today with concerns like immunity, blood pressure, cholesterol, et al becoming a much bigger buzzword today, though they existed all along. Digital life is sedentary and needs healthy and limited food intake, with body stretching every one hour, exercise regime twice a day of minimum 15 to 30 minutes, and may be some time for music and dance or theatre etc. Self-esteem and confidence are primary for a strong emotional intelligence, and that come through digitally getting best versions of what you are doing, and learning from the same to apply and not merely know.

Seventh, learn to maintain relations seamlessly across several means and platforms.

Relationship of all types taking multiple avatars today: physical and digital means, across multiple devices, and in person and from remote, face to face and on social media, physical amplified digitally. So, wedding or birthday with 20 to 80 people in front is watched by a thousand digitally. The birthday of the wife is celebrated with the gift and the dinner, then with a restaurant party of some ten odd friends or family, digitally through zoom with remote friends and family, then virtually on FB, and with Instagram recording the memories. And taking something or some occasion close to heart across multiple media is now the middle-class way of expressing affection and commitment! In a hurried life, the digital, the virtual comes handy in lieu of the physical, and more assuring in addition to the physical. Cynics may say whatever, but even the octogenarian mother, non-user of social media, also enjoys when her special moments are on FB and Insta and people talk about it on phone.

Eighth, reduce unnecessary travel and reckless consumerism.

Reduce unnecessary travel locally or long-distance to actually increase its quality and ease, reduce amassing products to enhance their life and sustainability, and focus on quality use of what you have, rather than constantly having more. Just now in Goa, a large number of youths have come to celebrate what they are calling as ‘revenge tourism’ as international borders are still largely closed. Repeated leisure travels to the same place, doing the same set of drinking dancing cuddling rituals, visiting the same spots to click the same pictures: all these show lack of imagination, option and lateral thinking. Business travel will be heavily reduced with online meetings becoming widely acceptable, AR-VR making meetings ‘almost real and face to face’ with avatars etc, and quality and punctual discussions happening digitally. Leisure travel should be well thought of, safe, eco-friendly and varied. Having lesser but better quality more sustainable goods and services shall be more emotionally satisfying than just amassing goods with consumerist avarice. Less of fast fashion, more of new and ethical slow fashion ahead.

Ninth, learning is seamless, constant, from multiple sources and experiential.

Every new age calls for new age learning, formal and informal, conceptual or technological, liberal or functions. Learning earlier was primarily chalk and talk, with rest being in the fringes. Today it is blended, a lot of it digital, constant without any fixed timings, often organic without any fixed syllabus, from multiple physical or digital or environmental sources, and novel each day now, more than ever before. One needs to get accustomed to self-learning, self-discovery, in place of instructed learning of the past. Alongside, a lot of asynchronous learning, that is learning at one’s own place, pace and time, and limited synchronous learning of a batch, whether digital or physical. Degree as a learning purpose shall also reduce with time, and skills and career enhancement as learning purposes will take over.

Tenth, quality life shall be the pursuit more than ever before.

Quality life is not about shunning work, good smart work is not about endless hard work, naturalist life is not anti-technology, adapting new technology is not about being slave to it. So, taming of technology, learning to innovate, timing to relax, seeking multi-dimensional life, and caring to be healthy will constitute quality life. More than money, position and physical power, newer indices of happiness will evolve, though not always with their pitfalls.

The author is currently the Adviser and Professor of Daffodil International University and the Secretary of Global Media Education Council.