Of memes, jokes, and plasma-donation pleas: Scrolling on social-media in a pandemic-ridden world

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

A virtual meeting just ended. Empty moment in the day. Muscle memory. Hands reach for the phone. Instagram. Red circles, new stories. Pictures of influencer with her friends. Meh. Scroll. Ex colleague saw a pretty sunset. Good for him. Scroll. Someone's mother needs a plasma donor. Wish I could help. Scroll. Influencer doing South Delhi girl impression. Scroll. Ten ways to style a scarf. Scroll. People urgently looking for Oxygen cylinders and concentrators and refills. I can't. Scroll. Vegan and cruelty-free cosmetic brand launching new face oil. Scroll. More pleas to save lives... oxygen, ventilators, injections, blood, plasma... Scroll. Scroll. Scroll... Next meeting calls.


Phone rings. Uncle is on the brink of death. Cousins cannot find a hospital bed. Time to create a Twitter account, finally after all these years. Phone numbers and emails of strangers with resources. Screenshot. Scroll. Someone's mother passed away while looking for a hospital. Scroll. Someone's confession of love for the Prime Minister. Scroll. An actor's fundraiser. Sponsored post. Scroll. News, they're gathering to count votes in some state. Sounds necessary. Scroll. More phone numbers and emails of strangers. Screenshot. Scroll. Scroll. Scroll... panic, cousins are calling again, have nothing useful to offer yet.


Freshly formed opinion. Must vent. LinkedIn is my thing. Thousands there to indulge me and my rants. Type, edit, post. Notification. Likes and comments start pouring in, as do the dopamine hits. While the likes pile up, we scroll. Startup raising trillions of dollars of funding. Regular stuff. Scroll. Person needs Oxygen for his mother. Share Twitter screenshots. Scroll. Something about growth mindset. Scroll. Someone lost his job, says more likes will somehow help. Scroll. New Cricket ad from finance app. Wonder if non Cricket lovers can use it too? Scroll. Someone needs plasma donors. Copy-paste more screenshots, pretend that you helped. Scroll. A founder sharing news of losing his father. People in comments offering startup ideas that'll prevent death. Scroll. Productivity guru launching new course on time-management. Scroll. Scroll. Scroll... More pleas for leads and resources, more productivity and growth hacks. Check latest number of likes on post. Exit.


In the middle of a raging pandemic, social-media is an interesting hodgepodge. For some people, it's where they find an escape from the reality. For others, it's where they must broadcast their reality in hopes of making it less painful. And then the advertisements and sponsored content are important, too.

There is a concept in computer science, called "Context Switching". It refers to the computing system's ability to multitask by storing and holding different processes in different states. Right now, our brains are switching context at unprecedented speeds -- we are scrolling through panic-inducing news about failing healthcare systems and then jumping on stoic work calls that begin with cheery small-talk, our social-media newsfeeds are showing us pleas for life-saving resources while also selling us clothes and gadgets through well-targeted ads, we are watching selfies of hopeful, sun-kissed faces closely followed by images of the dead and the mourning.

When computing systems multi-task too much, they get laggy. We? It's a wonder we are functioning at all. And that goes for those among us who are alive and not trying to save a loved one; the rest have no time to wonder.


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