Technoprivilege

“Sorry ma’am, I cannot hear you properly,” says the student with perfect internet, as an excuse. Easy escape for when you don’t know the answer, isn’t it? “Boss, can I take an off tomorrow? The WFH is getting too much for me” says the employee, to take the day off and watch her favorite movie. Many such tales have been floating around in my social circle, a circle of privilege that I often fail to recognize.

The imperative shift to work and academics online has taken over the world. People with access to smartphones at the very least are somehow able to manage this change.  But, what about the vast majority in remote corners of the world, living in poverty; the father who traveled miles so that his daughter could go to school, the young boy who shifted to the city in search of a job, and countless others? 

Millions of people have lost their jobs across the world. In India, the migrant and farmer families have been the most ill-affected ones. Daily wage workers have had to move back to their homes, miles away from cities. Many have traveled on foot, even barefoot in some cases. Various incidents of unfortunate deaths mid-journey have been reported. Being able to sit at home with access to a lot more than basic sustenance, internet, or being paid for working from home - these are all only possible for a small percentage of the population. Schools and colleges conducting their exams and classes online have failed to recognize how unfair this elite access is to students who have moved to their villages or are stuck in areas with little to no network. A man, in the foothills of the Himalayas, was forced to sell his cow - his only source of income, to buy a smartphone so that his daughter could attend online classes. He tried it all, but could not land a loan for even Rs. 6000. Such dire conditions have forced a large number of students, especially rural girls, to drop out of school. And this is only one of the better examples where a person has been able to procure a resource at the cost of his livelihood, barring those who have none left whatsoever.

The pandemic has put forth a lot of interesting perspectives. One of them being the wonders of technology - of being connected to the world despite being quarantined. And the more important one is recognizing that if you enjoy the aforementioned perks, you are a privileged person. In a country like India, where the struggle to get schools in villages and children into schools continues, the dropout rate has been harrowing. Moreover, with the shift to online shopping, many local vendors in urban areas have lost their livelihoods, while Jeff Bezos has only grown wealthier. The gap between the rich and the poor, the literate and the illiterate has worsened, something that the country was already struggling with.

With the privilege of technology comes the pressure to be productive because now one has ‘all the time in the world to themselves.’ This has collectively affected the mental health of many people. Having access to resources has turned into a compulsion of using them all the time, to prove that we truly are making the best of our time. This has put the underprivileged on a further backseat due to the lack of opportunities for them, and only highlighted how far removed we are from the ground reality.

Despite the dismal picture that the pandemic paints for the less fortunate, there’s a lot we can learn from them. As reported in a local newspaper in July 2020: A migrant family of 6 was on a painful 800 km journey on foot from Delhi to Raipur Village (MP) on NH-8, when they came across a surgeon from Gurugram's Fortis Memorial Research Institute. The surgeon's account of the incident will leave your heart glimmering with hope and relish. She offered the family some biscuits and water, to which the mother, supporting her entire livelihood said, "no, we have enough, please give it to someone in need.” Her husband followed suit upon the surgeon's insistence. One of the four kids seemed excited and accepted some biscuits. However, the sheer contentment on the faces of these less than fortunate people left her inspired. She recounted the bags atop the parent’s heads having the words ‘संतुष्ट’ (satisfied) and ‘Good Time’ written on them; even in the face of adversity, they adhered to those words. Similarly, the man who sold his cow showed us how invaluable education is to those who don’t have easy access to it. 

These incidents might seem minor, but teach you lessons for life. They made me realize how fortunate I am to still be able to lead a healthy life, and how much I have to be grateful for. The new normal is yet to be ascertained. The government and various NGOs have a long way to go in ensuring proper pandemic relief to people in remote areas of the country. A year of setbacks should be dealt with by taking it in our stride. If we are in a place where we can help those who need it most, we must take that step.

It is humanity versus the virus, and only that mentality will help build the solidarity the world needs right now. So, send some money to your domestic help even if they’re not able to work. Give away your old mobile phones to students in government schools. Donate to the best of your abilities. We will get through this together.