The advent and exponential growth of the Internet has brought about much change in the world including digital tools and services aimed at boosting productivity or convenience, instant access to information, and the proliferation of social networks. This has resulted in the creation of industries, paradigm shifts, and new ways for companies to promote themselves and reach potential consumers globally. The last seven years have also seen Internet usage double in developing countries, showing that all are eager to benefit from the opportunities it brings.
In a speech made by Mawlana Hazar Imam at the opening of a new printing press at the Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2016, he remarked, “In such a world, it is absolutely critical – more than ever – that the public should have somewhere to turn for reliable, balanced, objective and accurate information, as best as it can be discovered. No one, including the Nation Media Group, will ever be able to do that perfectly. But it is critically important that all of us should try.”
Trust is a critical theme as we consider the rapid global expansion of Internet usage and access to ‘information’ that is available at the touch of a button or in the palm of our hand. In the so-called Post-Truth era, can we always believe what we find? As far as possible, it is important that we should strive to rely on sources of information that are trustworthy and verifiable.
In relation to the Ismaili community specifically, The.Ismaili was set up as the official site for the global Jamat before the Golden Jubilee and the Jamat has come to rely on this as a trustworthy source of information. Similarly, various Imamat institutions have established official websites - AKDN.org, IIS.ac.uk and the website for the Ismaili Imamat – Ismaili.Imamat – to provide credible information to the Jamat and others. Over the last few years, a host of Jamati social media pages – many carrying the same The.Ismaili brand - have grown, in response to the need to provide members of the Jamat of all ages with timely, relevant, vibrant and authorised content related to Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family, Imamat institutions, and Jamats worldwide.
In this age of constant connectivity, there is both an expectation and perhaps a desire to always be contactable, in a plethora of ways.
From a work perspective, this could mean that the ‘9-5’ work day no longer exists. Emails are sent and responded to at all hours, on weekends, or even while on vacation, often without compensation. Depending on the organisational culture, there can be an expectation to respond, and those who do not may be seen in a different light. This can impact personal, family, and social time, and may also result in people being distracted or not being ‘present’ with those they care for the most.
To prevent this culture from impacting health, you can consider setting boundaries with colleagues such as not checking emails or messages in the evening. Similarly, it is important to have boundaries within your families and social groups where, for example, you can suggest placing phones out of sight during family or friend time.
Social media allows us to show the best of our life to the world, and we often rate our ‘worth’ on these platforms by the number of ‘likes’ or followers we have. At its most extreme, this can result in a negative self-image if the desired goal of a post is not achieved or if it is felt that others are leading better, more idealistic lives. Observing teenagers and their use of social media, their online communities are often strong but their mental health can be affected negatively due to constant comparison with others.
The younger generations who were born after the advent of the Internet have never known a world that wasn’t connected. They (as well as other generations) often have virtual communities such as those on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook as well as those in school or Jamatkhana. They must learn to coexist in both, which can be challenging.
Older generations also benefit from using the Internet, and generally do not seem to be as dependent on it for social activities because they may have other, well-established outlets. They do however sometimes face challenges adjusting to new technologies, which change so quickly, and need to learn new ways to do things, such as banking and online shopping. This can be frustrating and can lead to stress issues. It can impact family dynamics if older generations feel that they can’t ask for assistance from younger generations, or if the younger generations feel pressured to assist their family members, in turn impacting their lives and health.
To alleviate such potential issues, it is worth looking into the services offered by Seniors Programmes local to you or your Jamat. Libraries or community centres may also offer classes, depending on where you reside in the world.
What about pre-teens and younger? How can we try to ensure their mental well-being is not negatively impacted by the Internet? In future articles, we will explore this topic further.
Balancing life on and offline is important for general well-being but can be hard to achieve. Being mindful of your own and others’ usage and its impact can assist in setting guidelines for those closest to you to work within.