During these distressed times, we as students fondly recall memories of dragging our semi-conscious beings out of bed, trudging down the ever-green roads of NITK into our classrooms, only to fall asleep again at an 8AM lecture. The schedule remains pretty much the same, only now we don’t always roll out of bed, we rarely make it to the study table, and we scramble to find our laptops and login to that 8AM lecture. The voice of the professor resonates through our earphones, gently pulling us back into sleep. 8AM. That’s when our screen time begins, and with an online semester, there appears to be no defined end to it. 

The 21st century was already one heavily riddled with the use of laptops and mobiles and with the pandemic-induced online semester, our screen time has increased exponentially. Pulse NITK spoke to a few students of the NITK community to find out about the effects of prolonged screen time on them.

  • How has life changed with the online semester?

Life has become increasingly monotonous to put it in one word. Life on campus was quite vibrant, with so many extracurricular activities that we could take part in, and whenever we needed a reprieve from work, we could always go out for lunch, hang out with our friends, catch a break somehow. With the semester moving online however, screen time has increased drastically. We’re forced to interact constantly on social media platforms like whatsapp or Instagram, which is a problem for those trying to catch a break from them. Try as we might, interaction online cannot keep up with interacting physically with people. We try different ways of keeping things interesting, online games, memes, but eventually it stagnates until we’re forcing ourselves to laugh and have fun even when we’re not. There are a few however who have appreciated certain aspects of the shift to an online mode. People that aren’t too keen or comfortable with face to face interaction have found it easier to cope up.

  • How hard was it to find a middle ground with teachers/students for conducting classes online?

While both professors and students struggled with adapting to new technology, students struggled to keep up with the increased load of assignments. Most professors adapted a more flexible approach to their courses, taking inputs from the students on how best to structure the classes, whether live or recorded. Class representatives played a major role in keeping the professor and students connected and on the same page. The most pressing issue was network connectivity, and everyone has been a victim of this issue at some point. Interaction between the professors and students has gone down, clearing doubts on a live class with multiple disturbances is not as effective as interacting in person with the professor.  We still have room for improvement to find a middle ground that works effectively for both professors and students, perhaps the academic year of 20-21 will set a precedent for the upcoming year.

  • How pressurized do you feel to develop new technological skills as quickly as possible to ‘keep up’ with the constantly changing atmosphere of the online semester?

We as students are perhaps lucky to be living in the age of technology. We’re quick on the draw and tend to pick these skills up faster than our previous generations, such as the professors who would’ve perhaps had a harder time. A lot of final years are of the opinion that learning all these skills, whether different meeting platforms, or technical softwares will help them in their journey beyond college,in the corporate world. While a few people found it easy and were excited to pick up new technological skills, a few found it hard, especially with technical software and would’ve appreciated the guidance of either professors or seniors in person. While students did feel the pressure, they clarified that it was of a positive nature and helped them learn new skills.

  • What do you think is the most important problem to be tackled with respect to the exponentially increased screen time?

The opinions on this are varied. While the most obvious problem is the damage it does to our eyes, students highlighted some other problems as well. While we focus on the effect on our eyes, most tend to forget the effect that increased screen time has on the rest of our body. Working in front of a laptop involves sitting in one posture for hours together. We are essentially damaging our body by doing nothing. Not every student is equipped with a study room or an office space to work from, most resort to sitting on their bed, their couch, or even on the floor for the lack of options. These irregular postures have a significant effect on our spine. The solution to that would be to give ourselves a break every 30 minutes, to stretch lightly, which brings us to the next problem, a unique one highlighted by one of the students. Willpower. If we had the willpower to dedicate ourselves to our academic work alone, we would spend much less time in front of our screens. Unfortunately, most of us struggle with a lack of willpower, switching to youtube, instagram or netflix and find ourselves pointlessly scrolling, increasing our screen time. If instead we focus on our work and wrap up quickly, the extra time could be used to take a walk or so some light exercise which we all need.

  • How has your mental health and personal space been affected?

In general, the world is in a pretty bad state right now. We aren’t just fighting a raging pandemic, we’re also actively hearing about many social struggles that are very disturbing. It’s not that these issues didn’t exist before, we’re just hearing more about them now since we’re at home and not in our happy little bubbles in college. All these issues, combined with every individual experiencing a lot of personal loss over the past year has left mental health in shambles. The sudden departure from college, the sudden loss of familiarity that we’d come to embrace in college, where we lived among friends and loved ones affected many. A lot of people fail to realise that home is not always a welcome environment for everyone. For people suffering from familial problems, restrictions being imposed, going back home meant a lack of mental solace and personal space. There are a few students however, for whom the pandemic was a welcome change, as they found the much needed space and time to recover from their mental health problems. A few people mentioned how video calls make it easier for social anxiety, you aren’t always required to switch on your videos and if you need space you can always silently spectate at a meeting. You don’t have to deal with the constant interaction with peers and professors as you would in an offline semester.

  • Is there anything you’d like to tell your students/professors?

We’d like to say thank you to our professors as well as peers for adapting to the sudden shift in our study environment. Everyone has been making a lot of efforts to ensure our education is not tampered with and that takes a lot of efforts. We’d also like to express that studying from home doesn’t provide the same environment as home. With the loss of boundaries between personal and professional lives, students find themselves helping out at home during class hours and find themselves submitting assignments while the family spends time together. A lot more communication is required between professors and students to understand the dynamics of completing our education from our homes. We want our professors to know that we try really hard to pay attention, to give in all our efforts, but with everything going on, we are often overwhelmed, and perhaps more open communication would help both sides understand the other better. Some students also suggested that an online semester may be the best time to try and reform our way of learning. 

  • What makes you happy in the current circumstances?

This received perhaps the most heartwarming answers from different members of the NITK community. Everyone has been trying their best to keep themselves aloft during these tough times, finding happiness in the smallest of things. The comfort level of attending classes from home, not having to travel long distances, being fortunate enough to have good connectivity, that gives a few students happiness. Some also found happiness in developing new hobbies, whether gardening,  painting, baking, singing or dancing. Some found happiness in the simple act of having dinner with the family, something we don’t get to experience much during an offline semester. Some found happiness in planning out and deciding their future, and yet some final years found happiness in merely getting satisfactory results for their projects that they worked on over a year.

  • Health effects/after-effects due to increased screen time, if any?

The obvious effect has been on our eyes, constant dryness and redness of eyes. Many had to get glasses to keep these issues in check. We’re all around 18-21 years of age and yet we’re already victims of back pain and knee pain from sitting in the same posture from hours together. However, a little bit of exercise definitely goes a long way in countering these effects. Burning out is another after effect of increased screen time. Students overwork themselves to the point of exhaustion and coupled with the uncertainty of the situation they find themselves increasingly stressed out about their future as well. 

To conclude, a lot of students and professors have been facing multiple issues with the drastic increase in screen time. Perhaps the experience of the current academic year can help better the next one, to provide a favourable ground for both students and professors, with effective education and lesser health effects.