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My ONSCREEN LIFE vs MY OFF-SCREEN LIFE - Sharing Hope, Purpose & Life


‘Can you hear me?’

‘Can you see me?’

‘Put a thumbs-up if you can hear or see me?’

‘Please mute yourself if you are not speaking’

‘Please submit the MCQs by pressing on the submit button’

Welcome to the new world of WFH and Online Education in 2020.

The resilience of the human race is amazing. We have figured out how to move on with life without moving anywhere. Stay put in your home. But conquer the world.

There are quite a few interesting memes circulating on social media that articulates what’s happening behind the scenes. Be it kids messing up an important business meeting, or the most interesting attire on display, or that irritating virtual background or a family conflict watched by the whole world. The list could go on.

But actually behind the scenes, personally, I face these interesting inevitable tempting scenarios every time I am on a zoom call(or Google Meet or Microsoft Teams or Skype or whatever it is) especially If I am not leading the session. Scenarios which might be amusing, but represents the wide range of possibilities because I am not seated physically in front of people face to face. Even as I share these scenarios, I am quite aware that the next time you have me on a virtual call with you, you would be unusually alert. Pray that I don’t yield to temptation.

Firstly, the temptation to multi-task. I am constantly tending to do at least three things(maybe make it four!) most of the time I am on a virtual session. Emails, reading, or day-dreaming(no, I have not yet slept on a call!)

Secondly, the wonderful possibility of having a full meal while attending a virtual session. I haven’t done it personally yet , but the thought has crossed my mind.

Thirdly, the urgent need to schedule myself for two meetings(or three) at the same time. It’s not that I am really that important. But it feels nice that I am wanted for two or three meetings at the same time. However, on a serious note, when you have two important topics on two webinars taken by two of your favorite communicators, you login at the same time on two devices. This is an awesome possibility!

Fourthly, there is a constant insatiable urge to send private chats in the virtual room to close friends, making ‘worthwhile’ comments about the ongoing discussion or any other matter.

Fifthly, the temptation to use the limited network bandwidth to my advantage and excuse myself from a virtual call of no consequence. (No, I have never done this, but I have a strange feeling it is commonly used by 40 percent of people who exit a meeting)

There is another developing saga which applies more to our online education. I watch it at close quarters with both my sons attending online classes. My kids are experimenting, exploring and excelling in a digital space that we as parents never had the privilege to experience.

Our kids, the digital ultra-natives, are loving the drama. They are seemingly obediently attending these virtual classrooms but they are silently enjoying the stress the teachers and parents are facing to make it all happen.

All kinds of courses are happening online. Physics, Maths, English, Chemistry, Hindi, Bengali, Geography, History and much more are all taught online. It has been wonderful to notice even music, physical education, dance, painting and every creative course all happening happily online. It’s amazing how much the teachers, parents and students has grown ‘outside the box’ in just 6 months. It has been stressful but the journey is worth documenting for future generations.

But, as an actively involved spectator, the biggest challenge to navigate for the education system is how to conduct online examinations. Thus far in India, examinations has been conducted under the watchful eyes of invigilators, supervisors, teachers, security guards and CCTV cameras. The examination hall is supposed to be the defining factor for your future. Well, we can debate at length the pros and cons of this system. But, it has been amazing how the Indian education system is figuring out very creative ways of conducting online examinations. Multiple-choice questions, reflective essays, rapid fire verbal on-cameras viva exams and much more has taken over our homes. It was quite interesting to listen to my six year old son explain the concept of MCQ’s (Multiple Choice Questions) to his next door neighbour.

These exams are conducted without any security guards, supervisors, teachers or CCTV cameras.

This examination operates on one rare commodity: TRUST.

The teacher is trusting the student and parent to be doing this examination in all honesty and integrity.

Watching my elder son write his online examination, I realized that ‘cheating’ is a very feasible option for him. If he wants, he can do it. But something stops him. Just like his dad in the other room is tempted to ‘cheat’ on his office calls. But something stops him.

Now, some of us, may not call my tempting ‘scenarios’ as ‘cheating’. But, online lifestyle (in WFH or online classes) feeds a mentality that allows us from being fully present in our present assignment and dabble in multiple facets of our lives at the same time. There is a twofold problem here. Firstly, we are not giving our best to our present assignment(or vocation in our workplace or as a student). Secondly, we are becoming skilled in giving 50% attention in several areas of our lives. Instead of developing healthy habits and better time management skills, we over commit for the sake of appearances and cheat ourselves into believing we are living extremely ‘productive’ lives.

What stops all of us(or should stop all of us) from crossing this invisible line to be different on-screen and off-screen?

The most important ingredient of the ‘new-normal’ 2020 is TRUST.

Trust is the most essential ingredient that 2020 is teaching all of us.

Basically it is teaching us, if we want to go ahead and cheat. Please do it. But you are not cheating anybody, you are cheating ONLY yourself.

School kid. College student. Working Professional. Creative director. Business entrepreneur. Celebrity. Politician. Sportsperson. Parent. Grandparent. We all have been more on screen this year than ever before in our lifetime.

We are constantly sliding towards keeping our public image intact while we play around in our private lifestyle.

Our public profile is enhanced and boosted with creative filters while our private person is eroding with dangerous distractions.

Am I trustworthy off-screen?

Who am I when nobody is watching me?

There is an old story of a father who took his young son out and stood him on the railing of the back porch. He then went down, stood on the lawn, and encouraged his son to jump into his arms. “I’ll catch you,” the father said confidently. After a lot of persuasion , the little boy finally made the leap. When he did, the father stepped back and let the child fall to the ground. He then picked his son up, dusted him off, and dried his tears.

“Let that be a lesson,” he said sternly. “Don’t ever trust anyone.”

The world has operated too long on that flawed principle. We have exhibited it for far too long and our next generation has imbibed it watching us.

We cannot trust anyone because we have not been trustworthy.

We can only be trustworthy, if our off-screen lifestyle is stronger and deeper than on our on-screen charisma.

Globally, breach of trust is a major issue. Every day people lose jobs, leaders are dragged to court and the paparazzi sensationalises it whenever there is a breach of trust. The breach of trust is usually when we have legally crossed over boundaries laid down by the government or the organisation or the society.

But, the truth of the matter is that long before we had a public breach of trust, we had privately off-screen blurred the boundaries with our personal convictions and God’s standards.

One of my favourite songs, found in the Bible(Psalm 15), rehearses the secret to living a trustworthy life: offscreen and onscreen. A lifestyle that pleases God and honors him at all times.

Walk straight,

act right,

tell the truth.

Don’t hurt your friend,

don’t blame your neighbor;

despise the despicable.

Keep your word even when it costs you,

make an honest living,

never take a bribe.

You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this.

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