Projections

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem

Dear Reader,

‘Self’ in relation to others. How we come into this world; how we suffer, sometimes, and struggle always. ‘Trauma’. And the only things that really help: our connections with our Creator, and our relationships with particular people.

In this article, I want to speak a little about identity. And about ‘projection’. Selfhood: whom we are, whom we have been, and where it is that we are going. We already know whom we are: we do pretty much everything in light of it.

‘Projection’, though: when we imaginatively paint, with holographs, atop other people, other things. When things are more or less still – when we only have access to, say, three or four things that we (feel we) definitely know about them. And we can proceed to, usually subconsciously, project, and project, and project. Are they even a human being, anymore, in our eyes? Or do they come to become merely a bundle of all our deep-rooted wants and longings?

Desiring not whom – or what – they are, in their fullnesses, their realities and entireties. But instead attaching ourselves to notions of what they might be. Possibly. The mysterious and obscured projector screen, which is known to fill the gap between Appearances and Reality. It isn’t really true, and nor is it (healthy, or) fair.

Dear Reader, I encourage you to do something a little strange, here. [‘A Little Strange’ should probably be my middle name]. I want you to think of a time when you may have had a crush on somebody, or, metaphorically… on something.

[This is something I had to explain to some of my younger students, while they openly discussed their celebrity crushes in front of me: that it is perfectly Halāl – and natural, and a sign of good internal functionality and all – to have crushes. But it is all about what we do in light of them, that counts]

Crushes, and projection. I have had ‘crushes’ on places, before. For sure. Two academic institutions. One: (a somewhat idealistic part of) my mind convinced me that it would… ‘save’ me somehow. That these were the specific problems I had been facing, and there lay the solution. A still image. Just an image: a series of them. And, thus, as a result of my distance and my fundamental unknowing: my mind’s ability to project whatever it wanted onto this not-a-thing, but-a-concept.  

Mystery, and adventure: ostensibly essentially liberating. A whole new sea of people to meet; a whole new ‘better me’ to somehow morph into. But now I know that Dunya is, consistently, a difficult place: an abode of struggle. And the onus on rescuing myself is not on any other person, or on any other place, or on any other ‘time’ or on anything in-between: the onus is on me.

Forgive me for my shameless oversharing once again, dear Reader. Also, some of my students would appear to have (shamelessly stalked me and) found this blog of mine: they might read this part, and it might be a little embarrassing, but it’s okay: it’s normal and it’s human. I want to talk about a couple of crushes I have had, in the past, and about what I have learnt, through ever having them — about myself, and about life. [Netflix should totally make a ‘To All The Boys…’ Desi-Muslim girl version!]

One of them had been very funny indeed. Class clown, effortlessly witty. He had also been, I think, very smart, albeit not in a traditional-academic-sat-down-behind-a-desk kind of way. Quite the opposite, probably, and (not to sound like a wannabe poetic o b s e r v e r again, but) he seemed to have this depth to him that had been concealed beneath that ‘joking-all-the-time’ veneer. And sometimes, in ordinary classroom conversations, he would casually bring up something so thoroughly clever and interesting. A popular and ‘cool’ person who would watch documentaries about the most peculiar things. And he prayed Salāh and cared about Islam! This, for me, had been one of those attractions that had resulted in me questioning my own merits. Was I funny enough? Cool-and-interesting enough? And all the rest of those unhelpful questions.

Then, there was one whom I had not interacted with as much as the aforesaid one (that aforesaid one whom I had known for five entire years). He prayed, and was kind, and reminded me of a humble and happy, intellectually curious and… unassumingly-comfortable-in-himself-and-his-uniquenesses farmer or something. Held the door open for people, with a smile; would zip up their bags if he saw them open; would say “Salaam” on the stairs, in a gentle but cheerful way. By being around him, I learnt much about things like Islamic philosophy; terms like ‘Fitrah’ and ‘Mu’tazila’. He had his [I hate this word but there is no better alternative, I don’t think] ‘quirks’: would bring in entire cakes to school and, if I recall correctly, a butterknife also, sharing slices out, and then proceeding to talk about things like the Islamic perspective on masculine/feminine essences, and about the poems he had helped his sister to write. Or, are these particular discussions the ones that I had paid attention to the most because they spoke directly to my own interests?

May-haps, may-haps.

How much do people know about the goodnesses of themselves? Do they know how much they have managed to teach and/or comfort other people? How much do we really know about ourselves, in relation to those around us? Subhan Allah!

I think I understand these things, in retrospect, a little better, though. In other people, I have strongly admired such things as commitment to Deen and Deen-related learning; kindness; intellectual curiosity, confident humour and wit, centredness and contentment, and idiosyncratic strangenesses. But: I do not need to acquire these things via a dude. What if I am already these things? What if these things simply indicate to me what I hope for more of, when it comes to my own self, and my own life?

What if I had merely been projecting, all along? My own hopes for myself; my own inability to see that this might already be me! Things that I am; things that I hope to work on. Recognised, via another person, who, from my own limited outside views of them, seems like me but more solid-seeming: painted in a (heightened) positive light!

Truly, there is no time like the present; no time nor place better than the here and the now. I am a living, breathing, thinking, human being, and (although I do not believe in ‘independence’ per se, and strongly believe in the value of love) the onus is on me to understand myself better, and to improve myself: to accept my own place in Islam, and in the world, and to be a better Muslim — to (with Allah’s help, of course) save myself.

Is it not just that… we grow awfully used to our own selves, over time? We do not recognise that there are things that we are – effortlessly – and spaces that we occupy – effortlessly – which, collectively, are ours, and they are nobody else’s in the world’s! How cool a thought. And, you see [as a big sister to one brother and five little cousin-brothers, the phrase “you see” gives me PTSD. ‘Dhar Mann fam’ and all. If you know, you, rather tragically indeed, know…] every human being alive is just that: a human being. A collection of unique good things; a realistic helping of flaws, edges, fears, sorrows, misgivings and such.

Anybody can – if one were to deliberately attempt to whittle the entireties of their beings down to a set of desirable-seeming traits – be romanticised. Little things: them being kind to their elderly neighbours; crying unexpectedly while watching certain movies; making their favourite meals while humming their favourite songs. The ‘quirks’ that their family members know them for; when they are known to burst out with laughter, and for what, precisely.   

And the glass is always half-full, half-empty, with every single element of Dunya, including with these current versions of ourselves. Everybody is beautiful. And everybody is messy. Apathetic, at times. ‘Hangry’, at others. Unfocused, and/or worried, and/or so prone to misunderstanding things. You are a living, breathing human being, well-acquainted with the facts of (the fullnesses of) your own humanity. There is room enough, in the here and now, to breathe, and to be (you, and to) Believe. And to know that we must live right now: it does not get ‘better than this’.

‘Projection’. When one decides that one thoroughly likes a thing, without first being well-acquainted with it: the only thing that can fill the spaces of unknowing is… projection. What it feels like one may lack in one’s own self, one’s own life, perhaps. Ideas, ideas, notions of ‘in the future’, fortified, as a consequence of constant rumination… into convictions. Thrown onto the unperturbed-by-reality stillness of the object: place, or person.

[But the onus is on us, most crucially, to live. Fully. Not always ‘prettily’. And to become better]

‘Projection’ also works in the reverse way: when it comes to people placing other people – even their own siblings, or their own children – on (or, within) the opposite of pedestals. Pits. When people are deeply unhappy with their own lives, and with their own selves, and when they, perhaps, feel entitled to ‘better’. The more ‘still’ a person is, or the more distant, or even the more nominally ‘close’ they are: the easier they become, to scapegoat.

Crushes and scapegoats. Both of these things operate based on the acts of projection. Cognitively treating a fellow human being not like a human being anymore; instead, being quite unfair. These things tell us less about the objects of the projections, and more about their origins. When people’s minds are, for better or for worse, not very fair towards another: the other becomes a sort of picture frame, coming to frame the origin’s expectations and insecurities and such.

“Since I’ve learned (the reality of) people, I don’t care who praises or criticises me, as they will be excessive in both.” – Malik ibn Dinar

Only when things are real are they real. And when things are real, I reckon they feel far more balanced. More ‘here’ than anywhere elsewhere; focused on whatever is, in preference above what we imagine might possibly be.

Ultimately, we are all human beings; not mere singular images, caught in time, and then painted over and glamorised, or (on the flip-side) denigrated and blamed for everything that is wrong in the world or in another’s life [‘tis our intentions, which matter]. We are not mere ‘concepts’; we are not ‘perfect’ in the way that motionless porcelain dolls are. We are not fundamentally terrible and undeserving of love and affection, either. Ever. We, here, must move, and move, with Time. And grow, and grow. Know pain and struggle; experience the lightnesses of their opposites, also.

So long as our intentions, in general, are kept in good order; so long as we are doing right by other people… We do not need to be other than ourselves, in order to be loved and to feel worthy. Not a thing. There is, for example, no need to be quieter. Or, louder. Or, more ‘cutesy’, or less fake-aggressive and playful. Not less logical; not more ‘sure-seeming’. Growth is always important, but it is desirable and meaningful when it is organic, and when it is beginning from whom we already are; whom we already (Alhamdulillah) know ourselves to be.

And maybe this is it: this is life, and there are no things, here in Dunya, that it is the primary function of these particular chapters in our lives to ‘prepare us for’. No part of Dunya-based existence is only a prequel to some other part. Life does not ‘begin’ with university, or with marriage, or with a job or some such. Every single thing we do; every moment counts. And the onus is on us.

Maybe we are already whom we had always been dying to ‘be’. Maybe, whenever it is not full and real (here, and in the now) then it is, quite simply and intuitively, incomplete and false.

And maybe, actually, and rather comfortingly, grace does not require anything more – or less – of us, nothing ‘other-than-we’, in order for us to be readily accepted into it. If it is real, and if it organically speaks to whom we are: it will be effortless. Friction-ful, as things are, in this world, and yet, on a greater level: frictionless.

In Dunya, it is true that we are fundamentally incomplete, imperfect. And yet, even then: in all that we are, and have been, and are not, and will, perhaps, never be… we are reflections of Magnificence. And what an honour it is, to be precisely here, in this very moment of time, exactly how and as whom we (already) are.  

[There is a possibility that tonight is Layla-tul-Qadr: the Night of Power/Decree. Remember to make lots of Du’a tonight, Insha Allah. And… if you enjoyed reading this article and hope to reap some Ajr, please consider donating to my LaunchGood campaign to raise money for formula milk for babies in Yemen and Syria. Jazak Allah Khayr (may Allah reward you with goodness), Āmeen.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Windows

“People are the best show in the world. And you don’t even [have to] pay for the ticket.” — Charles Bukowski

You find yourself gazing through some of their windows. Wondering: how on Earth do other people live? How do other people choose to live? Who are these people? Where – and whom – have they been? And where are they going? [And, who, what, when, where, why am I?]

Head resting upon hand, leaning over the table. Wide windows make for real-life television screens, almost. Sort of accidentally-on-purpose. Stage-curtains drawn, dynamically, apart. Or, via Instagram: individuals, and the art galleries they have curated for themselves. What do we come to make of it all?

A glimpse of them practising ballet in their front room, perhaps, canal-side. Painting a picture; carrying out their skincare routines. A selfie. Or, maybe ten. A new boxing hobby. Picking at their skin a little; pulling at their eyebrows. Stretching. Snacking. The ins and the outs, and every single passing moment.

The closer one gets, to a person, the more one tends to come to know, of them. How they might always obsess over the tiniest of details, or how they can so easily get swept up in day-dreams. What they do as soon as they wake up; their go-to composition for a lazy breakfast. The manner in which they come and sit down – or, melodramatically slump down – for lunch. How they prefer to sit, when watching TV. That far-away expression that paints their face, when they are lost – deep in thought. How – and when – they recite Qur’an. Their most favourite parts of their days. Why they may seem so certain, at certain times. And yet, so fragile and falling, almost, at others. [When? And… why?]

Working from home: her industrious typings at the dining-room table – and she also happens to be intermittently fasting – while his chosen space is on the middle floor, caught between two monitors. Phone in hand, spinning on chair. And maybe they have a small child, too. Napping on a sofa somewhere downstairs, for the time being, while Alexa is humming for her a lullaby. A view of picturesque, drizzly and grey England cuts right through their bedroom windows.

Pearl-white light.

Their laughter: four young daughters, playing. Pumpkin plant; apple tree; a cat that has given birth twice within the space of just over a year. The tree’s branches are bare for now, but it tends to come into fruition come late Spring. Equations, incomprehensible-seeming, scrawled across the window in whiteboard marker. The garden table; ceramic ashtray at its centre. You witness these auditory snapshots of their laughter. Hear snippets of heated arguments, too. The echoes that manage to emanate beyond high brick walls.

You’ll feel the good, and

you’ll have the bad too. Because we are made of dirt; of fertile, nourishing earth. Secrets, and laughter, monotony and sighs. Moments, and moments; how time is always passing, and how we spend each of our nights.

Today I learned that the word ‘human’ is thought to be derived from a (proto-Indo-European) word that meant ‘earthly being’. Human: a thing whose corporeal being comes from the earth. And also, back to the ground do our physical forms decay.

The word ‘humble’ is thought to stem from this same root, too. Since we are, each and every one of us, on the physical level, from and of and destined to return to the earth: what justifiable reason could any of us possibly have, to act with Istikbar – arrogance – as though we might be mighty and superior, somehow?

And worldly life is just that, usually: mundane. [From the Latin mundus, meaning ‘world’]. There are the shininesses; the dressing-things-up to show; the snapshots and the images. Zeena, in Arabic. And there are the more complete truths. What goes further than the mere surface level. What we know these lives of ours to be. Deeply, and truly, and in their relative entireties. But also,

Every single thing that you have: did you know that you are likely, in one way or another, enacting somebody else’s dream, right now? You have, for example, the sort of physical ability that they so sorely miss — the type that has long been left behind, to some aged, fading-in-memory days of youth. Back when their elbows and knees did not creak or groan so much; when a walk in the park had been just that. A walk in the park.

Food that fulfils. Rest that regenerates. Cushions for comfort.

Water that flows. Exactly who, and how, when and where, you are here, and now.

Every living, breathing moment. All that is calm, and all that is a little chaotic. The ways through which we learn things. Usually, from others. But in ways that speak best to whom we already intrinsically know ourselves to be.

Also: irrespective of how well-informed or put-together any fellow neighbour human being may appear… Remember that, just as this is your first (and last) time living this life; having this earthly experience… this is everyone else’s first (and last) time here, too. How tender; how actually-rather-reassuring, and conceptually uniting, a thing to think about. That we are all learning – and being – precisely as we are going along. All of us come from rich, humble earth. And, certainly this is where each and every one of us are headed back to.

To live, somehow, a life that does not feel superficially ‘shiny’ or constantly-sunny. And nor should we ever expect for it to. But, to take the necessary good, and the necessary bad. Write, somehow, right between each of these lines. The loops that go up; the curves that extend down. I hope, Insha Allah, that it is a thing of calligraphy that ensues.

I know all this might sound a little cheesy. But, no … all of it does not truly, neatly, ‘efficiently’, ‘make sense’ to me. And I genuinely love that. No two days – no two moments – are ever quite the same. Pouring bleach over all of this, so as to clean it… these beautiful things would also come to die, in the process.

Right now, you see, there are all of these questions; this mystery. This is, kind of quietly, quite the adventure. And one ought to find peace in the fact that this was always meant to be a journey; this was never meant to be the Destination.

You are alive. Human; earthly being, and there is all this grass right there, at your very feet. It is, at once, blessing, and it is struggle: test. You may either stoop down and water it; tend, with due love, to your own garden. Or… you may spend your days imagining that greener grass must exist here atop earthly cradle, but… somewhere other than here or now, in some patch that is simply other than yours.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

On Deleting Instagram

A couple of friends of mine have, since my having deleted Instagram earlier this year (after having had it for approximately seven years!) asked me whether or not this decision has ‘changed [my] life’, and if so, how. And I wanted to write out – or, type out – the relative completeness of my thoughts surrounding this.

I think that, the truth is, so many of us feel quite ‘existentially isolated’. [After all, why wouldn’t we? Just look at the norms, the ways, of this world, today…] And Netflix’s ‘Social Dilemma’ documentary summarises it aptly when it refers to how we are prone to using our smartphones – and the colourful social media apps that dwell within them – as “digital pacifiers”. We feel something; we must purge our emotions on social media. Lonely, bored, happy, sad, confused. We are known to turn instinctively to social media in order to assist us in ‘processing’ our emotions, or in blunting them altogether.

I believe that social media – the ‘newsfeed’ apps, that is (and this is less so the case with the private messaging ones, like WhatsApp) – facilitates and normalises ‘quasi-social-relationships’. We ‘connect’ with others virtually, but in doing so, it seems the majority of us have lost the art[s] of real, complete, human connection.

I find it rather tragic indeed that, when close friends, for example, get together these days (or, at least, in those golden pre-Corona days) silences and less ‘exciting’ moments are filled by everybody turning to their digital pacifying devices. Instinctively. The same phenomenon can be witnessed within families, too. In those ‘quality moments’ that young children in particular are meant to remember fondly throughout their lives, parents are obsessively checking FaceBook, or WhatsApp stories, or Instagram. Being made to feel inadequate, in this way, that way, or the other, as a result of all these engineered images of ‘good times’, ‘perfection’. And then, they generally contribute to said phenomenon, by engineering and posting some images of their own.

Distracted from (the completeness, the truths of) one another, we find we are; sucked into digital vortexes. Scrolling, scrolling. And the sheer amount of information that one is made to come across, on a daily basis, and to process. Over-stimulation, with mere glitter, and not with media and information that always necessarily nourish us. Often, we find, our minds are, at once, being put under so much stress and pressure (you must do this and do that and buy this and be that!) and that they are being chronically… numbed down.

I admit, Instagram had been quite fun to use, at least at times. Aesthetic pictures, wonderful filters, funny people, interesting knowledge, a way of knowing about fellow human beings; a way through which to observe humanity. But the app is also, by nature, addictive. Image after image, post after post. The things we consume through our eyes and ears do ultimately have effects upon our minds and our hearts. Islamic teachings make us well-aware of this fact.

I do feel less… suffocated by the presence (now, absence) of a burgeoning bright-light world of hundreds of people that sits on my phone and sends me daily notifications. [I have also, this year, realised how unfavourable it really is to be so readily and easily accessible, all of the time. Slews of notifications, from Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp… nay, sir. It is not for me, thanks]. A world that had held hegemony over my attention, and thus, over my mind. One I would escape to, but also, paradoxically, needed escaping from, and one whose norms are actually quite scary: all these ills that are known to be promoted, so very easily, through this app.

To have such a frenetic world at my very finger-tips. Sometimes, these days, I do feel I may be ‘missing out’. But, on what? There are so many people I have met, known, briefly crossed paths with, whom I used to have on Instagram. But if we are to maintain (real) social relationships with one another, even small ones that involve an occasional conversation a couple of times a year, I would much prefer that we have an actual conversation. Not based on curated images; not based on fragments of information we each send out to large audiences. Real conversations, one-to-one, maybe over WhatsApp, and then (post-lockdown, perhaps) over coffee [Hello Poli, you get a shout-out here, my dude]

I do wonder sometimes, by being off of Instagram, am I ‘missing out’, somehow? The truth is, I do not think I am. I now have a mind less burdened, (less… intoxicated by incessant and on the whole uncontrollable inputs) and I want to invest my time and energy into my truer connections. Beginning with religion. A good relationship with Allah, I feel, necessitates a cleaner mental space, as well as diminished valueless-media consumption. Snapshots, images: that make you idealise; that are designed to make you feel, in some way or another, dissatisfied; that give you false impressions; that eventually lead to your living this life of yours more vicariously than individually.

This is my life. Its peaks, its troughs, its sometimes-rocky roads. I want to experience it, in its truth and in its wholeness, and firsthand. I need not ‘escape’ from it, through (over-)using Instagram, which is often (if I am to indulge in a bit of bitterness, here) merely a marketplace of delusion.

A good relationship with Allah (SWT) and good, healthy, nurturing relationships with my loved ones. I hope each of us can truly be here for, and take care of, one another. The hyper-individualistic, deluding, isolating, often-quite-detrimental ways of ‘modernity’… they are not for us. These ‘toxic’ cycles that Instagram often gives rise to, and facilitates: making people feel lonelier, and increasingly inadequate. And then, where humans are wired to look to established and true social groups for comfort, support, and belonging… instead, we look to these quasi-relationships. Everyone is entrapped. Real friendships, deep bonds, are in major crisis.

How awful is it that, in order to nurture a good social bond with someone, these days, we feel we must schedule little appointments with them roughly a month in advance?! I know, I know… life gets busy. But if we are putting our ‘busy-ness’ way before the connections of our souls, really and truly, we are doing things wrong. What is the point of ‘busy’, if it means losing out on so much true goodness? Priorities, sister!

Deleting Instagram has certainly been ‘worth it’, I think. Perhaps it is true that I now know less about two thousand people I have once known; that they now know less about me. It is also true that it is no longer ‘normal’ for me to continuously consume so much pointless and/or obviously detrimental media. Also, feelings of ‘boredom’ and such, when faced, can be quite useful: they allow us to truly, meaningfully, reflect. On the things that are actually important. Seven real friends, in lieu of two thousand not-so-real ones [And whose approvals are more important? Higher quantities of surface/image-based approvals, or deeper ones from those who know you and love you most deeply?] And the ability to face our feelings head on – including ‘awkward silences’ in our face-to-face interactions… This is far more conducive to a better holistically-human experience than… compulsively quelling or purging our feelings by plunging our minds into a virtual world that actually ends up making us feel more restless, dissatisfied, and overburdened with information. A conveyor belt of images, to which we are known to turn in order to escape truth[s].

See, between states of boredom (‘under-stimulation’) and those of anxiety (‘over-stimulation’) there is a place. A ‘middle way’, call it, which is centred on order and routine, and is also decently challenging and exciting. Constancy, with some much-needed interspersed novelties. This is a worthy state of being to strive towards, methinks. However, the issue with Instagram is that it exploits states of ‘boredom’ and then propels us, whether we are, at the time, conscious of this or not: into hyper-stimulation

Even months on, from my having deleted Instagram, I am still working on this: I am known to think, from time to time, about pretty much everyone, and everything. I think I absorb others’ emotions and such like a sponge. I need to normalise, within myself, concerning myself only with that which truly concerns me. And if a true social connection between I and another is meant to be, then, quite simply, Bi’ithnillah, it shall be.

Mine to be concerned about is this: my own ‘small world’. With these people, in it. A world that truly concerns me, and which does not dizzy, deafen, or delude me, as a result of my engaging with it. Purpose, validation, motivation, comfort, belonging: surely I can obtain fulfilment, within these particular things, from more substantial and true avenues than… Instagram.

My Rabb; nature; interpersonal connections of the soul. These, I find, are all I really have, here, and these are all I really need.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

On Social Media

Social media: online platforms that supposedly enhance our social lives, making us feel more connected to other people and places. I know that the virtual world certainly has its benefits; it lets us keep in touch with people, and to come across new people (I was lucky enough to first meet one of my closest friends through Tumblr) and new perspectives. Through online networks, we can also come by inspiration for various things (a word of advice here: Pinterest is indisputably the one for room decor inspo).

That being said, however, personally, I have found that whenever I am feeling particularly dissatisfied or mentally uneasy, I notice that there has been a spike in my social media activity (or, rather, inactivity, when I am scrolling aimlessly through my Instagram newsfeed). Granted, the direction of causation is unclear here: do I attempt to purge my sorrows by looking at aesthetically pleasing pictures of books, buildings, and beautiful things … or does the virtual realm actively contribute to my sense of sadness? Perhaps the answer to this is a more circular one, and an increasing number of us find ourselves trapped in the vicious cycle of the lofty expectations and subsequent dissatisfaction that social apps can impose on us.

You may have already heard about the shocking finding that receiving ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on social media typically has psychological and physiological effects that parallel those of heroin consumption. Social media, our digital drug, has utterly consumed us. Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr… the logos of these social media giants are plastered all over shop windows and tourist attractions. Many of us use them for hours on end, every single day.

Recently, numerous celebrities and other avid social media users have posted about their love-hate struggles with their digital lives. Many have taken the decision to dispose of their accounts altogether; many others have resorted to undertaking lengthy social media hiatuses.

As well as the plethora of mental health issues that can arise from or be worsened by the overconsumption of digital content, it could be argued that the epidemic of social media warps our reality, and replaces it with a falsified ‘Insta-reality’: our experiences are commodified, made as ‘picture-perfect’ as possible, in order to be shared online. It could also be argued that the online element only adds to our perceptions of reality: we naturally enjoy relaying our thoughts and experiences to others (often in a rather filtered way). Does it really matter if what is being said is conveyed through our screens in lieu of our facial expressions, voices, and physical proximity?

When analysing the effects of social media, it is easy to fall into the trap – that great human bias of ours – of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles, and at the present through a lens of mistrust. Life must have been sweeter back then – and interpersonal relationships more soulful or romantic – when our means of communication were limited to face-to-face interactions, and beautifully handwritten letters. In truth, this probably wasn’t the case: humans have always been great narcissists, nosy parkers, perfectionists, procrastinators, and so on. Social media simply provides a digital stage onto which the best (and worst) elements of the human condition can be projected.

Another crucial question to be asked: is there really a solid line that delineates between our ‘in-real-life’ and online selves? The postmodernist view is that the distinction between media and reality has become (irreversibly) blurred. ‘Real life’, surely, is a product of our experiences – whatever we see, touch, feel, smell, taste, and, most crucially, think. Our realities depend on the manner in which we process the things around us – including the things we see online. But what detracts from whatever claims to authenticity social media might have is its often very ‘filtered’ nature. People are very particular with what they post online: streams of glamorous and ‘aesthetic’ posts can lead to – and has led to – the development of the view that anything that is ‘ordinary’, mundane, commonplace, and messy, is substandard.

However, it is true that the issue of the selective presentation of ourselves exists offline too: people are also rather selective with which thoughts they allow themselves to translate into physical behaviour and speech. We are inherently prone to filtering ourselves – so perhaps, instead of being a threat to our fundamental collective human nature, social media is a direct product of it.

Ultimately, it would be rather ignorant and small-minded of me to claim that the effect of social media is only detrimental to us: there are certainly benefits to increased connectivity. But these online platforms have exacerbated certain negative conditions – FOMO (fear of missing out), jealousy, feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy, issues with body image, and more. Social media exposes us more to the world – both its good sides, and its darker sides.

But the most alarming aspect of the whole debate, in my view, is the fact that social media has become a drug to which many of us find ourselves helpelessly addicted. And, just like any other drug, people need increasingly large doses of social media to sustain their addictions. In fact, withdrawal symptoms are often experienced in its absence. And often, instead of ‘living in the moment’, we find ourselves responding to cognitive itches by obsessively and anxiously picking up our phones, unfathomably desperate to know what others are doing, or how we are being perceived by them, or which shade of lipstick Kylie Jenner has chosen to wear today.

My ambivalent ramblings towards social media conclude themselves here: everything that is good, is good in moderation. And sometimes, in order to recharge yourself, you must first unplug yourself from the often deceptive and all-consuming world of social media.


Sadia Ahmed, 2018

Identity

The question of identity is one that every person battles with, particularly during adolescence, when we find ourselves confined within a grey area between the euphoric joys of childhood, and the endless responsibilities that come with adulthood.

This state of uncertainty can, understandably, lead to an identity crisis (or, in my case, a procession of consecutive identity crises) during which one questions the very nature of one’s existence: Who am I? And why am I here?

These questions are undoubtedly exacerbated by the sleepless world of social media: we are constantly being bombarded with expectations, labels, and stereotypes pertaining to our collective sense of self, which have now become impossible to avoid. Essentially, we are being placed into categorical cages, which shape our thoughts and our behaviours. One is either a nerd or an athlete- always introverted or always extroverted-masculine or feminine. We are so often forced to define ourselves.

Hello, my name is Sadia Ahmed and I am… a girl? A South Asian person? A teenager? A Muslim? A writer?

But I am forced to wonder: who am I, and what truly defines me? Do social circumstances (over which I have no control) define me? And if so, what if my circumstances change? Will I gradually lose fragments of my personality?

These thoughts remind me of an interesting philosophical idea- the Theseus’ Ship paradox. If one replaces every wooden part of a ship over a long period of time (resulting in the creation of a completely identical vessel) would it be correct to state that the replicated ship is still the original ship? Similarly, do we maintain congruous identities, even after being subjected to varying experiences and ever-changing ideas?

My qualms surrounding the theme of identity have always been lodged somewhere in the deep, dangerous recesses of my mind, but recently these qualms have been amplified. Sylvia Plath once said, “I know pretty much what I like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who I am.” I can relate very well to this statement: I am constantly being asked to define myself- to encapsulate my entire existence within a handful of words, whether it be at social gatherings, or school, or even in social media biographies. To be able to respond appropriately, I must favour some aspects of my identity over others. I am a nerd who enjoys travelling, writing, and reading. This is what I usually respond with. However, by doing this, I am forced to omit other aspects of my rather fluid personality:

I like eating takeaway near my windowsill at night when it is raining. I love dancing to Spanish music alone in my room at 10PM. I love having ‘packed lunches’ while watching Disney movies. I love the texture of paper that has been adorned with words and feelings. I love observing people, because every time I engage in this practice, I am reminded that human beings can be such wonderful and sincere creatures.

Our idiosyncrasies can never be contained within a string of words, or even within several strings of several words, and other people’s perceptions of us can often be very superficial, centered on little more than their own woes and insecurities. Do I talk too much? Good. Does my existence bother people? Even better. 

We are all born to different families, in different places, with different destinies. Sometimes it is comforting to know that others can relate to our perspectives and experiences, however in reality, other people are very quick to (subconsciously) stereotype and assume things based on meaningless observations. Some people speculate that because I am a ‘nerd’ whose interests are rooted in academia, I must love science. I must wish to become a surgeon, or an engineer, perhaps. I seem like I take everything too seriously. I must spend all my hours revising. ‘Intellectually capable’ people love science, want to become medics, study incessantly, and have no capacity whatsoever to embrace humour or affection; these must be facts of life, right? Wrong. These stereotypes are false, but they place a lot of pressure on me to be a certain way, unless I want to betray myself by straying away from my own ‘identity’. But alas, in reality, I possess an ardent love for English and History, and it truly irritates me when people surmise that science is more intellectually challenging, or more rewarding, than the humanities. Also, I would like to become a university professor or a lawyer in the future- medicine is, no doubt, a fascinating field, however I prefer fields that involve writing, speaking, and analysing different viewpoints. Oh, and finally, education is indisputably a priority to me, but so is friendship. So is family.

And so is occasionally sitting back and simply enjoying life.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017