Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg!

Comment University/Local Issues

Image Description: A girl using the Whatsapp messenger service to connect with friends.

Five minutes ago, I left a four-hour Skype call with some of my Oxford friends. Yesterday, I spoke to another friend for four hours via Facebook. I have never socialised more than I am now. That’s despite being on vacation, so its doubly against the norm.

Social media allows me to communicate, laugh, to carry out my most basic, human functions. Its role has been to compensate for the cabin fever that may be hitting us sometime soon, if not already. Above all, it keeps my social skills in tact!

With teaching going online, my eyestrain from staring at a white screen will only worsen. But at least we do not have to completely surrender to the whims of COVID-19 . I shall continue to write my essays and submit them on a laptop. Then I’ll have a tutorial. But what about tutorials for economics, involving the writing of equations and diagrams?

I have never socialised more than I am now. That’s despite being on vacation, so it’s doubly against the norm.”

STEM students are likely to have this struggle, too. Microsoft Teams cannot compensate for the lack of a whiteboard or accessible problem sheet. Not everyone will even have a high-quality camera, or broadband (if any, at all), to capture images and sound.

The only way to solve this problem would be elite technology. Tutors and students alike could create a digital whiteboard for themselves, and draw diagrams at the same speed than in real life. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. In reality my tutors may have to spend more time preparing for tutorials than normal –  to prepare diagrams beforehand. Let’s not forget what an inconvenience it is for them, too.

The quality of teaching may go down in some cases. Technology, or even social media, cannot make up for all the deficits that non-physical contact has. In hindsight, students won’t be able to profit as much from tutorials.

STEM students are likely to have this struggle, too… Not everyone will even have a high-quality camera…to capture images and sound.”

Yet while our education may be at some loss, our social skills can still improve. All this social media interaction shatters the norm. Most of us via  normally self-isolate over the vacation period anyway, after a gruelling eight weeks at the helm.

This paradox in our new-found demand for social media might not have happened without COVID-19 – ironically, ‘self-isolation’ has made us aware of how we ought to communicate more. Without its usage perhaps we would have self-isolated anyway and have ignored the consequences of doing so. I can only hope that a habit will develop: term time should only mark the end of a break in academic work, but not in one’s social life.

As my vision blurs from my lack of vitamin D, I do not feel bored. Luckily for me, however,  I do not have any addictions, which could become lethal in these conditions. Jonathan Pie, a comedian, joked that he can only survive self-isolation with stock-piled alcohol in his latest skit. As with Pie’s jokes, there is always some sinister truth in it.

I can only hope that a habit will develop: term time should only mark the end of a break in academic work, but not in one’s social life.”

Some scientists, such as Johnson, Pagano et al have claimed that social isolation, or self-isolation destroys people’s ability to cope with addictions. Indeed, addictions are more common than one might think. They appear in those who gamble too much, smoke cigarettes, drink too much, and in many other forms. I admit: addiction to social media may worsen for some.

House Party is a new popular app, topping charts for the number of times it has been downloaded. During this period of self-isolation, I have met people, friends of friends. Once, I found myself in a House Party with someone I had never met in real life. An obvious fear is that all this remote interaction will enable people to act in ways they never would in real life.

Some scientists… have claimed that social isolation, or self-isolation destroys people’s ability to cope with addictions.”

The Coronavirus outbreak has reminded us all of the great powers of social media – to inform a community, maintain our basic human function of social engagement, and to share of our thoughts, whatever they might be. That is the essence of social media. Yet it ought not be an opportunity to deceive and to exploit others. Whilst social media can be a powerful tool during this era, we would do well to remember it’s downsides as well.

Image Credits: Helar Lukats @ Wikimedia Commons

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