Like many Canadians, I have been spending a little more time online while we #stayathome during the COVID-19 restrictions.
Last month Canada’s large internet companies reported internet usage increases of over 50 per cent nationally. A report from April reports that Canadian usage of social media (in time spent) at the start of the pandemic had increased by a whopping 70 per cent.
So it turns out that I am not alone in my increased usage of Twitter and Facebook: a lot of us are turning to social media a lot more during these troubling times.
But social media can be a pretty toxic place at the best of times. The political partisan bickering, the Russian-financed bots (designed to destabilize democracy) and the keyboard warriors and trolls who foist their negativism and abuse from the comfort of anonymity can make for a stressful online experience.
Not to mention the online threats. In April, the Canadian Internet Registration Agency, in partnership with our cyber-security organizations launched the Canadian Shield, a free internet security service released in part because of the growing number COVID-19 cyber security threats.
During particularly troubling times being online can seem anything but a relaxing way to get information and entertainment.
I have some friends who have blocked Twitter and Facebook recently, solely for the anxiety it causes them. Others (myself included) have reported social media-fatigue that may or may not be linked of pandemic fatigue.
This issue first arose for me about a month ago. I was just about to reply to a nasty bot on Twitter and was consumed that day with COVID-19-related stress. Then I remembered a post of someone who I had started following on Twitter recently — Gurdeep Pandher of Yukon.
Pandher is a bhangra musician and teaches bhangra-style dancing in Whitehorse, Yukon. The uploaded videos of his music and dancing are just absolutely stunning and so obviously happy.
I had been noticing over the first month of the pandemic that the pandemic hadn’t changed the happiness that he was sharing with the rest of the world. Many of his videos feature drone footage of him dancing in beautiful Yukon locations. Another showed him dancing bhangra to the bagpipes of his closest neighbour. Every video exudes joy.
Curious to know how someone was remaining so positive, I reached out and he graciously replied.
I spoke by telephone with him from his remote cabin outside Whitehorse and asked him how he seems to remain so positive during this time.
“I have read a lot of history. I watch a lot of historical movies. I am aware that humanity has gone through so much (refugee crises, wars, famines). But we survived. I take a lesson from that. We will survive” he explains.
Pandher also explains that his art form helps keep him happy.
“I think that the positive energy of bhangra keeps me positive. The dance is so happy. It’s so high energy. It keeps me happy, positive and optimistic,” he adds.
Like most people everywhere, Pandher had to change his approach because of the virus. He had been teaching in-person bhangra dance lessons “to people from all walks of life” in Whitehorse before the pandemic. Such classes were banned in the Yukon as they were in the rest of Canada because of COVID-19.
“I had to make a few changes. I had to go online. I was hesitant because I didn’t believe it would be possible to do what I do in person, online. The first class I posted I had 70 people from across Canada participate. This inspired a lot. Now I see people and have students from all over Canada and the world.”
“That’s mind-blowing to me how you can connect. I probably never would have taught online if not for COVID,” he says.
In the weeks since we have spoken, Pandher’s popularity online has only increased. He has since been featured on the CBC in print and on television and has been the guest of a podcast from the Bank of Montreal.
There is a reason why Pandher has been gaining international attention for what he is doing: his art and approach are a much needed antidote at this moment in Canadian and world history.
As he was quoted in that podcast, “we can create happiness in a world that’s not perfect.”
That is a message I think we could all use right now.
Have a positive person you have been following online? Leave a comment. Follow Trevor Hutchinson on Twitter @hutchinson_tw