If you’re not aggressively whipping coffee, learning eclectic dances, or baking banana bread, social media raises the question: what are you really doing? In the face of a global pandemic, there arises a peculiar pressure to appear productive. This pressure is accompanied by our significant shift to documenting all our productivity online, perhaps to fulfil the deficit of human interaction. It can be disheartening and stressful to compare your ‘busyness’ with someone else’s – due to the fact that there is simply no measure. But how can we push for productivity in the midst of a mass crisis? In such unprecedented times, it seems like learning new skills and creative talents are last on the list of priorities.
If Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague and Isaac Newton allegedly developed calculus in quarantine – I’ve decided that my ambitions certainly pale in comparison. This line of thinking lends itself to creating some form of competition. I can’t do what they can. Competition culture has always been woven into the fabric of our modern cultural identity: slogans such as “Rise and Grind” or “Hustle Life” punctuate our overwhelming desire to hustle harder and grind greater. We crave routine, stability, and discipline in the hopes that it will lead to a clear result. But now is a time with no seemingly near, nor clear, end result. Instead, we are seeking ways to optimize working, studying, and sitting at home with various creative and self-improvement projects.
These projects are posted, retweeted, and shared in a seemingly endless scroll of motivational, uplifting content. Yes, this content is needed and appreciated, but it should be said that this does not reflect one’s virtue. As Rainesford Stauffer discusses, we live in a time where productivity is seen as a “virtue”, a form of proof that you are good person. So, it makes sense that we are scrambling for stability in the form of productiveness. Is it the only form of “safe” we know?
From her article, I was inspired to write my own declarations – especially concerning competition created by social media and its implications:
Productivity is not a competition
Following trends and responding to challenges is definitely fun but comparing your day to someone else’s “more productive” day, can just add to stress or anxiety. Despite our constant need to do something, it can more beneficial to not do. In a public health emergency, one’s contribution from home can be as simple as resting and taking things slow. There is no pressure to turn into a domestic goddess, small business owner, or home-workout athlete, overnight. It should be highlighted that different people are enduring different situations with very different resources, in the face of a communal crisis.
I can understand, as a student myself, that competition is an inevitable and essential factor to academic success. Leading up to the (virtual and remote) exam period, working with peers can improve one’s own work ethic and increase motivation. However, I wish that guilt factor could somehow lessen, to reach a level where we can “forgive” ourselves for indulging in activities such as baking or painting.
Social Media highlights the ‘Highlights’
Those of us, who are not essential workers or working on the front-line, are faced with a social-distancing work-from-home situation that often feels lethargic and dull. Of course, nothing can compare to the exceptional work of those on the front-line. However, this situation leads us to envy those who prove they are filling up their time creatively through bounteous Instagram stories. Social media truly exists as rose-coloured glasses where things will always look sparkly and bright.
Productivity can be personal
and subjective. If social distancing results in a call to a relative or close friend, it is still a productive day. This can be a period to pause, work on personal projects, self-reflections, and health. This is still productivity, no matter the word count of your essay at the end of the day. Although productivity, in economic terms, is related to output, it wouldn’t hurt to prioritise our emotions and feelings.
At the beginning of this year, I was planning my goals with Gatsby-like ambition. I thought the start to our twenties would be roaring and all our projects would be green-lighted, not put on hold. But this is the time to care more than ever – and stay busy, by our own definitions. Although we all may not be writing calculus or plays, we are “beating on against the current”, to redefine productivity in a global pandemic.
Edited by Ellie Muir