Have We Become “Comfortably Numb”?

Mansi Kapoor is a faculty at MIT -WPU, School of Management in Pune. SAGE is the proud publisher of her book “Global Business Environment ”.

Back in the eighties, Pink Floyd crooned to all their fans -

 The child is grown; the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb.


                                            This blog is dedicated to the Class of 2020.

 All Universities across the world, welcome the new batch with fanfare. Elaborate orientation programs are arranged with colleges vying for celebrities to deliver inspiring keynote speeches. The excitement in auditorium halls is palpable and one can almost sense each heart beating with hope for a brighter future. The darkened auditoriums glitter with twinkling eyes.

 And then when the course ends, there are valedictory events, private student parties, the group photograph, moments captured to be cherished later in Alumni Meets. It’s quite a thing. Ask any student, and they will always have vivid memories of these events and might have forgotten everything that happened in between.

This year though, students across the world were suddenly asked to leave with little assurance. It was an abrupt end.

March is “the month” in the academic world. It’s like spring. Beginnings and endings culminate at one point. Educational Institutions are Factories of hope after all. But this time around, the USP is missing.

 Days have turned into weeks and weeks into months since lockdowns the world over have been announced. Everybody, right from the neighbourhood vegetable vendor to Presidents of Nations have only one thing on their minds --- what’s the future going to be like?  When will this end?

 And all of us have become “Comfortably Numb.”

 Most of us are caught in the twin act of salvaging whatever little is left of our present lives and livelihoods and simultaneously coming to grips with what we’ll eventually return to (if not laid off) --- a radically different world. What it’s going to be like, no one really knows.

 But, what we can be sure of is this - education and subsequently work will lose their social context. Many lectures can now be delivered online which students can listen to at their convivence and submit assignments. I guess the fun we have with all kinds of students --- the naughty ones, the disinterested ones, the ones who always have a silly question, the eager frontbenchers, the “I don’t care about you” backbenchers, and the rebellious ones --- is a thing of the past. The vibrant ecosystem that students and sometimes eccentric, hopelessly idealistic teachers create is no longer considered useful. Ironically, there’s an ancient Chinese curse- “May you live in interesting times.”

 I think we have rudely been awakened by the tiny, microscopic virus that education now does not end after 10+2+3+2 years.  The process will now be a lifelong affair. Micro degrees, certifications, internships etc might be needed regularly. One degree, one domain, one career path is on the verge of extinction. Heavy investment in one college degree will no longer be viable.

 The Gig Economy will continue to grow and work from home a norm. It’s, after all, cost-effective and convenient, again. So, we will no longer have jealous collogues, bossy bosses, supportive friends, juicy gossip and all the works that make an office an office!!

 So, maybe there will be no value in social connections, I mean the real ones.

 What will happen, will unfold in its own way. However, the crisis has revealed that “we the people “have been piggyback riding on the toils of the “the marginalized, the victimized and the most vulnerable.” We have assigned to ourselves and our work far too much value and hence this gross inequality and despair.

Will we learn or will we remain comfortably numb?

To the Class of 2020 - untangle yourself from those dreams, just for now.  You might be starting something radically different. We will count on you, one day! You will address us in dark auditoriums and be messengers of hope.

 Check out the SAGE textbook Global Business Environment by Mansi Kapoor

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