NOW ON was conceived as a call that welcomed ideas, thoughts and experiments that responded to the current crisis and its impact on the work of promoting arts and international arts exchange. Of the 100+ applications received, eight received the Now On grant. The Now On series of interviews presents the recipients of the Now On grant and their projects.
In this interview, we talk to Tejas Pande about his project WhatsApp-Free University, which won the Now On grant.
1. Tell us about yourself.
I am Tejas Pande (he/him). I live and work in Bangalore as an information communicator, exploring relationships between creators and consumers. Through pedagogical methods, I use research communications, publications, cognitive mapping, and social media formats to create affective responses in information practices.
2. How have you seen the world change post-COVID 19? (especially with respect to the arts)
I think it is a little too soon to respond to that. But, two disruptions have caught my attention as India slipped into a strict lockdown to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
One: an information fatigue began to creep in as confusion over rules and regulations, isolation from one’s social environments, cluelessness about the virus and its spread, helplessness in protecting oneself, and resultant anxiety began to affect people on social media platforms. This had an impact on not just the volume, but also the type of messages being shared on them. People began to disengage or crave a break from an obsessive-compulsive need to take in pandemic-related information.
Two: an openness to consume content on social media that they were not used to. The pandemic had created a rupture in their existing information environment. This meant that it was an opportunity to offer newer formats of communication to engage with people without overwhelming them.
3. What is your interpretation of ‘Now On’?
‘Now On’ is an acknowledgement of disruption and responses to it. As an artist, it allows me to engage with two or more people experiencing a similar disruption with respect to the modes and formats in which they consume information.
4. Why did you apply to ‘Now On’?
The call sought new ways of communicating with communities in a collaborative manner. It resonated with my work that is about the many cultural practices surrounding information exchanges.
Fatigue offers many opportunities to seek a change in course. I was interested in social media environments within which people exchanged information. A rejection, or even just a reconsideration, of their usual pace and volume of information sharing allowed me to propose an alternative: self-reflection. I was keen on using these disruptions to become a part of their social media environments in the form of an artefact, and urge them to think about the consequences of uncritical exchange of information.
5. Tell us about WhatsApp-Free University.
I was interested in the information landscape of Tier II/III cities, which is where I come from and have a lot of familial & fraternal ties. It is a bit monopolistic in nature, with WhatsApp forwards holding a firm grip over their readers. Social and algorithmic biases do not help a person to think critically in dense information environments. Platforms like WhatsApp have been routinely used to spread misinformation. But, responses to this crisis have included calls for verification and fact-checking. As a result, WhatsApp University has emerged as a pejorative for uncritical consumption of information.
I wanted to put the focus on the relationship between people and the platform that had led to such an experience of social media today. Thus, WhatsApp-Free University was born. It encourages people to engage with their own biases with respect to social media use through short video forwards from smaller cities across Maharashtra.
Follow Tejas Pande on Instagram @tejasap