Internet shutdowns can take unimaginable tolls
I have always yearned for what I believe is true meditation, the peace that comes with being in mother nature’s lap — where the cacophony of the constant buzz of the internet fades away and gives space to the whispers of the trees, the secrets of the water and the stories of the soil.
A place of serene isolation where you can gaze at the sky to count the infinite number of stars and let the music of the birds lift your spirits. What once was my reality as a child is now but luxury, hardly available to us anymore and not so affordable either.
Last month, during the Ambedkar Jayanti holidays, my family of four got lucky enough to pause our fast-paced lives and access such a luxury for a couple of days. We escaped to a private forest, conserved specially for such expeditions. We treated ourselves to heartfelt conversations that were long due, given the restless urge to be hung up on some device or the other.
Our retreat was not completely deprived of the internet, though the speed was too slow to satisfy the needs that were usually met by the fast city. We got a near-to-perfect occasion to rediscover the joy of the human connection of talking and laughing together without any distractions. A delicacy but paid for.
A forced shutdown, however, is a bitter pill to swallow. As we found our joy from ditching the internet by choice, my hometown was in the middle of a grave crisis. The same day as we set our feet off our home, the city experienced communal clashes, leading to the internet being cut off.
As we adjusted to the curfew, the benefits of ‘body & mind rejuvenation’ began fading away as soon as we landed home. The COVID-19 epidemic has made us familiar with being restricted to the walls of our houses. Still, being deprived of the internet, the new opium, was a new addition to an already unfavorable equation.
Internet is the new water, I realised. It aids the way we connect to people, work and information. Water circulates throughout our bodies, just as it circulates our planet. The lifeblood that runs through our bodies, oceans and rivers connects our world. Without water, there can be no life, beauty or wonder. But in this new world, the internet is becoming the new elixir of life, a digital water that makes our worlds pale when not circulating through us.
Our city was starved of the internet for two more weeks after the few days of our digital fast. And as the curfew began to slowly relax, it also saw a new phenomenon. During the brief period of ‘freedom window’ allowed by the curfew for people to move around, those whose jobs relied on internet access and who couldn't go without it, would take advantage of the relaxed rules to travel to nearby cities and work only for an hour or two as the rest was spent traveling.
I myself had to do this. Some settled with their relatives in other places just to be able to save their jobs. A conversation with a friend who is working from home at a tech company revealed how private companies fail to understand all these problems, nor do they pay for traveling to other places and staying in paid accommodations.
Private & informal sector employees as such always run the risk of losing their jobs, as we saw during the pandemic. People of all occupations faced this at some level. Local businesses to e-commerce and food delivery all are dependent on the Internet. Medical services, among other essential services, too are now heavily reliant on the same.
The web rehab forced a girl staying in a private hostel and solely relying on UPI payments to starve for two days because she did not have cash for any food. The fear of missing out on any emergencies concerning their loved ones caused some people to experience a negative impact on their mental health due to social disconnection.
But some people found their silver lining. My relative shared with me that her kids engaged in outdoor play with other children, which was a first for them, as they usually spent that time watching YouTube videos and other games. But she faced more questions than before, as Google baba was shut down.
Another shared how their family’s different work schedules didn’t weigh them down from having lunch together.
Communal riots don’t help anyone. Internet shutdowns can take unimaginable tolls. In one sentence, we faced disconnection of our ‘water services’ (internet) as it ran the risk of delivering ‘opium’ (hatred, violence, so on and so forth). Hope we learnt a lesson; hope we helped the tap flow.
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