Jun 18, 2014
With a presentation on the effects of Facebook on everyday life in India, Charnita Arora, a former student of Freie Universität, won over the jury for a science slam held in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Arora, now 26, won the grand prize, a three-month stay in Germany, which will bring her back to Berlin – and even back to Dahlem.
A quick check of friends’ Facebook status, uploading a picture or clicking “Like”: For many Internet users in India, the social platform has long been a part of everyday digital life. “On campus, students look at their smartphones every couple of minutes to check what’s new on Facebook,” says Charnita Arora, who took her observations as impetus for a closer look at this medium.
Arora, a student of English language and literature, presented her findings at a science slam in Kolkata in late March. Facebook’s presence is especially strong in India, where the number of users recently passed the 100 million mark. That means worldwide, the only country with more Facebook users than India is the United States. Nearly three-quarters of Indian users access the social platform from a smartphone. Their digital companion goes with them almost everywhere, all the time.
In her presentation, Arora focused in particular on the platform’s psychological aspects. “Facebook is actually geared entirely toward enhancing our sense of well-being,” she says, adding, “After all, there’s no such thing as a ‘Don’t Like’ button.” Every time a user clicks “Like,” it functions as a kind of digital currency, boosting the user’s satisfaction. “Suddenly, this makes appreciation quantifiable,” Arora says, explaining the platform’s appeal. The flip side is that the constant crush of information and pressure to present oneself publicly come at the expense of privacy.
Her analysis of the social platform brought Arora, a former master’s degree program student at Freie Universität, the top award in the science slam. She herself was surprised: “At first I felt a bit out of place presenting on the humanities,” Arora says. After all, “science” normally includes the natural sciences or technology-related disciplines.
But her initial doubts turned out to be unfounded. Her presentation on the positive and negative aspects of Facebook won over the jury for the science slam, which was held as part of a several-day event series organized by the German House for Research and Innovation (DWIH) in New Delhi. As the grand prize winner, she can now look forward to a fully financed three-month stay in Germany.
“I definitely want to go back to Berlin,” Arora says. Her eyes light up when she talks about the capital city and Freie Universität, where she studied English language, literature, and culture via an Erasmus Mundus exchange. “There aren’t many things that change your life on a lasting basis. For me, though, my time in Germany was that kind of experience,” she explains.
In addition to the international flair of Freie Universität, she was especially impressed by how her semester abroad helped shape her personal development. Leaving one’s familiar environment allows one to stand on one’s own faster, she says. And only those who have the confidence to not just have their own ideas, but also pursue them, can gain valuable experience. “I learned that anything really is possible,” Arora says with enthusiasm.
Because she would like to share her experiences with others, Arora has decided to embark on a major project for her next stay in Berlin: “I want to write a book,” she says. Her goal in writing the book is to encourage young people to pursue their own goals, not to be afraid to take less comfortable paths, and to recognize opportunities.
Nowadays Arora works at the University of Delhi as an English language and literature instructor. She has also founded a company of her own, Perfect Life Spot, which offers workshops and classes for young people as a kind of holistic life coaching, with everything from cooking classes to crisis management.
Incidentally, Arora uses Facebook herself, both personally and for work – despite possible negative effects. “The important thing is for users to be reflective about their behavior,” she says. “Digital privacy can be a nice thing, too,” she adds.