Everything one can imagine is real

Sudhirendar Sharma
For the generation riding on social media bubble, being on a high seems their ultimate goal with any consequences therefrom being of little consequence.
Is being tempted to mindless adventurism a definitional condition for the millennial generation to remain oblivious of its porous boundaries and dangerous repercussions? Or, is it the default setting for modern generation to find reassurance against anxiety and depression in an involuntary online embrace? As an attempt to secure quick social recognition, staying relevant has become more important than staying alive for this generation. As a consequence, self-harm has been bargained for instant gratification as the tweens and teens of the generation secretly engage in cooling their raging hormones. Journalist Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava explores the inner lives of this generation who have succumbed to meeting the unrealistic expectations of the modern life, with a sharp uptick in anxiety and hopelessness exacerbated by the constant pressure to outperform online.

Stoned, shamed, depressed

Using a combination of case stories, original interviews, and social assessments, the disturbing narrative draws intimate portraits of young lives for whom ‘everything one can imagine is real’. For the generation riding on social media bubble, being on a high seems their ultimate goal with any consequences therefrom being of little consequence. Such is the irony that smart drugs have stoned them; cyber-bullying has body shamed many; and unrestricted sex has depressed a growing number who have logged into a parallel universe in search of a distinct identity. Social media closet is taking a heavy toll on the innocent lives, and the signs are ominous.
Bhargava examines how millennial have arrived at this juncture, and explores the influences that are at work within the home, inside the school, and in the virtual world. The illusion of choices in the world of instant connectivity has reduced this generation to be the loneliest, unknowingly forced into being ruthless and fragile at the same time. With blurred moral and ethical boundaries, the confused teen is easily sucked into the world of fantasy that addicts the vulnerable mind to the digital world where drug peddling, anonymous role-playing, cyber bullying, and revenge porn is only a click away. The modern-day school life presents a deeply disturbing picture in urban India, which is making fast inroads into the hinterland.
Worrisome is the fact that one in four teens in the thirteen to fifteen age group are depressed. At a total of 243 million, the country’s adolescents outnumber the combined populations of Japan, Germany and Spain. A recent survey estimates a whopping ten million teens in the grip of mental health issues. With an estimated 860 million smartphone users by 2022, understanding the role of technological change on mental health has yet to receive the attention it warrants. While investigating the secret lives of urban teens, the book laments lack of mainstream conversations on the topic whose full blown impact has yet to be fathomed.
Written with deep empathy and grave concern, Stoned, Shamed, Depressed is indeed an eye opener for parents, guardians, and teachers who wrongfully assume to be aware of the teens’ minds. With most homes akin to the internet cafes of the recent past, the confused generation is left to negotiate competition, uphold curiosity, and battle desperation out of their own resources. Barring exceptions, the ecosystem at home and in the school has literally been irresponsive to the loneliness that has taken its grip on this generation. The book shows that by the time the parents and teachers wake up to the stark reality, much of the damage is already done.
Bhargava has dealt a complicated subject in its entirety, taking the discerning reader into a secret world of dangerous possibilities where the young generation has unknowingly put its life at stake. As the virtual world of technological choices is unlikely to curtail itself from arousing curiosity, it is for the parents to get their children back into the offline embrace. With the pandemic having built the walls of confinement around us, it is an opportune time to reconnect with families to explore and address emotional and systemic vulnerabilities. In matters like these, prevention is always better than postmortem. The time to act has never been more urgent.
Stoned Shamed Depressed
by Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava
HarperCollins, New Delhi
Extent: 269, Price: Rs. 399.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)