Rijul Arora is a tech enthusiast working on building a better working world through technology. He is an ardent advocate of using tech in moderation with a focus on digital wellbeing and personal growth. He spreads his message via association with NGOs like LookUp.Live, global speaking platforms such as TEDx, local speaking platforms like colleges, schools, and writing platforms like Thrive Global, Medium, and Samvada.
What do you have to say to elders who admonish millennials for using technology, seeing how it is necessary in today’s changing times?
In these unprecedented times, everybody, children and elders alike, are required to stay on their phones and laptops. Communication is the key to developing an understanding of appropriate screen usage. Elders need to have a conversation about their children’s tech dependency. They need to ask them about what they are doing and learning on their mobiles and other screen devices in a friendly manner. Will a child ever listen to her parents if they ordered her to give up her mobile and tablet? Most children will instantly rebel. Most importantly, it is about being a positive role model. If a parent asks his or her child to cut down on their screen time but are themselves always using their mobiles or laptops, then they are not a positive role model. Parents should realize they cannot do away with technology, but maintaining the right balance is the key.
Social media tends to highlight the flowery aspects of life, leading to the majority of the youth developing insecurities. How does one use social media effectively to avoid these tendencies?
Social media is like food. If you consume the right amount of vitamins, carbohydrates, and proteins in your diet, you’ll stay healthy. Similarly, if you consume social media in the right way, you’ll be mentally fit. I would divide the usage of social media into two parts: healthy consumption and healthy production. Nowadays, most of us are consuming content that is not helping us grow. We see others getting a new job or going on a holiday, which makes us feel jealous. We must reduce and replace such content with self-help and empowering content. I, for instance, follow Jay Shetty, Simon Sinek, and numerous other people. Identify what resonates with you and helps you grow. That should be the idea behind using social media.
The majority of us are passive consumers of social media, i.e., we don’t produce content. Social media is a great way to reach out to millions of people. My LinkedIn posts reach out to thousands of people, and I’m not even an influencer. I can’t imagine meeting those many people in real life. Produce content that you’re passionate about online because you can reach a massive number of people. You could talk about technology, finance, data science, or anything else. While creating content, authenticity, originality, and factual accuracy are crucial. Another component of using social media is following your friends and family to keep connected with them. It’s akin to a three-legged stool, self-growth, production, and personal connections. If one leg falters, the whole thing goes down.
The pandemic has forced a lot of people to transition to an online mode of operation. How can we use technology responsibly to avoid addiction and unwanted stress?
The first thing to consider when talking about moderation of screen usage is the way you are consuming screens. What kind of time are you spending across different applications? What is your week over week analysis? Various applications help you do the same. There’s Screen Time on Apple devices. There are RescueTime, Moment, and several other apps that help you know where you stand and moderate your screen time better. We tend to pick up our phones the moment we get a notification. We need to identify these triggers and remove them or make them work for us. Keeping only relevant social media apps or only important alerts switched on helps a lot.
Another thing I have come across while delivering talks is that a majority of the students are unable to list more than one thing they would like to do beyond technology. It can be something as simple as walking barefoot on the grass. We’ve forgotten small things that bring us joy. Identify life beyond technology. Read books or learn a new skill. Try to find substitutes for online activities. To give you a practical example, I sleep with an old-fashioned analog alarm clock. There is a lot of research that proves that your sleep quality deteriorates if you sleep with your gadgets because the blue light interferes with your sleep pattern. You could switch to the newspapers instead of consuming online news.
Practice digital detoxing. The idea is to unplug from technology for a period and do something meaningful. The last thing is understanding how one can leverage existing technology to manage their time. Various digital wellbeing apps help you manage your screen time better. Applications like Forest help you focus on your assignments. There is no one size fits all solution.
How can students concentrate on their online classes instead of being distracted by messages and notifications?
Messages and notifications are external triggers, which is when your phones or screens are calling you. When you feel anxious or bored and instinctively pick up your phone, that is an internal trigger. It is about identifying those triggers and managing them. A piece of practical advice would be to switch off all notifications or keeping only priority notifications switched on. There are apps like Forest and Sapling where you sow a seed on the app for a particular period, which could be 30 mins or an hour, and if you exit that app or open another app during that timespan, you kill the plant. So, it makes you feel guilty for killing a plant. There is another app called Activity Bubble, where a bubble drops on your screen whenever you open your phone. You’ll see your screen filled with bubbles and realize how much time you have spent on your phone.
What is the message you hope to convey to your audience?
In my talks, I use this quote by Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.” It is my call to action to the audience. Do you want to spend one-third of your days on screen, or do you want to be connected to technology 24/7? Use your time to live and feel life. When you are going to be on your deathbed, you are not going to remember moments like applying filters on your photos or scrolling through social media needlessly. In the end, I say, “The time has come for each one of us to open our eyes to a world that does not see only screens but the beauty around us because ultimately that is where the real magic happens.”
How do you manage your time with your career and social initiatives?
I strive to strike the perfect balance between my career and social initiatives, but I too struggle at times. Professionally, I work with EY during weekdays. Over the weekend, I conduct workshops on digital wellbeing and personal development, and work with a suicide hotline and Global Shapers. I meticulously plan what I have to do the next day before I go to bed and try to stick to it, for the most part. Planning my day helps me a lot. I do take breaks and make time for myself. It is a slow process of seeing what fits your routine and lifestyle.