New Delhi: Every move you make, every step you take, it’s the internet that is possibly enabling it – at least in urban India – powering the the router tucked away in a corner as well as mobile data packages that are the pivots to keep the work and home worlds revolving in lockdown times.
The dictionary defines internet as ‘the large system of connected computers around the world that allows people to share information and communicate with each other’.
Behind the rather prosaic definition is a tool that has woven itself intricately into the fabric of everyday life. And never more so than now when the entire country is under an unprecedented 21-day lockdown.
At a time when staying indoors is the best way to survive the coronavirus pandemic, the internet has emerged as saviour for over 480 million users across the country. The lockdown doesn’t look quite as unbearable with the internet. Take it away and chances are urban lives will fall apart like dry cake.
It’s about work, leisure, shopping, family bonding and myriad other things as people recalibrate their lives. For every closed grocery shop, restaurant, movie hall, gym or even doctor’s appointment, the internet has an alternative ready at the click of a button.
Pune-based Shreya Sengupta said the net is helping keep her sane in these stressful times. Video calling is the closest thing to seeing her brother and boyfriend in London after her trip to the city last month got cancelled because of the coronavirus threat.
“Internet is all I have. London has the most number of corona cases in the United Kingdom, and WhatsApp video call is the only way I know they are okay. I just literally need to see them everyday just to know they are fine, not coughing etc,” the 29-year-old instructional designer said.
Over the last few weeks, social media users have been sharing screenshots of their video chat windows with friends, family and colleagues, evidence of the role the internet is playing in connecting people in these days of social distancing.
Besides the usual Whatsapp, Facetime, or Facebook messenger, new apps like Zoom are making the process seamless.
The increased dependence on the internet has led to data consumption in the country going up by at least 20-30 per cent, according to Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) director General Rajan Mathews.
To help mitigate mobile and broadband network congestion, platforms like ‘Netflix’ and ‘Facebook’ are reducing video quality after COAI wrote to the government urging it to initiate measures to ease the burden on network infrastructure.
Mathews said last week that mobile users could do their bit by choosing to time their online activities during off-peak hours.
Gurshabad Grover of the Bangalore-based ‘Centre for Internet and Society’ (CIS), however, reassured that the internet system is far from collapsing in the country.
“The internet won’t break. It is designed to be resilient, and our internet traffic gets routed around failures. There is an extremely low chance of multiple independent network failures happening simultaneously, in the absence of which any single network congestion or failure may not even be noticeable,” Grover stated.
Grover explained that low speeds often experienced by broadband users are a temporary inconvenience.
“One can face low speeds, especially for broadband services, but that will be for a certain point of time as bandwidth is split across several customers,” stated Grover.
His words come as comfort for Shruti Menon, who works with Mumbai-based ‘NGO Vitamin Angels’, and has been coordinating with colleagues over video conferences since the first week of March.
“We try to have one call a day with the core team in the morning. It helps us to check-in with each other and plan our work for the day. If there is an urgent need to address something, we schedule another call,” the 30 year-old said. While many would argue that office calls can also be conducted over audio calls, Menon said video conferencing was a closer replacement of the ‘face to face meetings’.
The internet is also coming in handy for patients to keep in touch with their doctors in these ‘contactless’ times. Several hospitals across the country have started offering consultations online.
Gurgaon’s ‘Paras Hospital’ has been extending the service since March 22 through video sessions on their own app — ‘Paras Health Mate’.
“We started our online consultation service soon after people were asked to maintain social distancing. There are video sessions between doctor and patient. We issue e-prescriptions, and payment needs to be done online before the consultation begins,” said Dr Sameer Kulkarni, facility director at the hospital.
The internet has also come to the rescue of fitness freaks who after the closure of gyms and parks, have now turned to online workout videos to keep their bodies in top notch shape.
“The lockdown has not weakened my will to work out. I have been exercising at home since the restrictions were imposed by watching workout videos by ‘Kayla Itsines’, ‘Jordon Yeoh’, and ‘Real Rubali’. They are power packed, dynamic, varied and impactful,” said Delhi-based fashion photographer Richa Maheshwari.
The Internet’s role in offering entertainment is not new and therefore the outpouring of posts seeking and offering recommendations on what to watch on streaming platforms like ‘Netflix’, ‘Amazon Prime’ and ‘Hotstar’ comes as no surprise.
Online games particularly ludo, which one can play with their friends in any part of the country has been keeping lakhs of people engaged since the lockdown.