Wednesday, November 24, 2010

IITK, Internet, Academic Stress and Other Miscellany

In interview form.

Q: Is internet a problem?

A: Yes, I suffer from internet addiction all the time. As I suspect do most people who are constantly connected. Internet is new and we haven’t woven it well into our lives yet. It will take time and conscious effort. Reminds me of when TV was new in India and moms all over were worried sick about the eyes and academic performance of their kids. No one worries about those things now. We’ve learned to live with TV. We will learn to live with the internet.

Q: Is banning internet a solution?

A: Yes and no. Yes, it will give people more time to do other things. Perhaps they will study more and be under less stress. But can you guarantee that? Can you be sure that they will not spend an equal amount of time playing phatta or doing bulla? When I came to IITK (we used to get only 300 MB of internet access at that time) I was warned against not the internet, but LAN gaming and, guess what, cricket! How about playing cards and carrom? I’ve seen people waste away nights on both. Are you going to ban those as well? Where will you stop? Are you going to chain students to their desks and glue them to their books?

Q: Should academic stress at IITK be reduced?

A: I don’t know. Depends on what you mean by that. Gaining knowledge involves working hard. That’s just the way it is. Working hard causes stress. Gaining knowledge also means that at some stage you will be evaluated by someone else. This also causes stress. So unless we’re willing to give away degrees to everyone who clears JEE and grant them a 10.0 CPI, there’s no way to ‘reduce stress’. And perhaps not even then, because I’m sure someone or the other will fret over the fact that such a degree doesn’t mean anything and that their childhood friend at IITB is getting a better job than they are.

The solution is to empower the students. Put in better exit strategies – perhaps get out with a minor degree if you don’t want to do the whole thing. More choice in coursework. Support for getting therapy and medication for depression, stress and anxiety. An awareness that you don’t have to feel that bad, that you can get out of that place and be happier.

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