How do you thrive in a profession without using social media? In other words, it will not only be possible, but it’s extremely enjoyable.
My guest today has done that for close to a decade. Her name is Mamatha Ramesh.
Introduction to Mamatha Ramesh
She’s a German language instructor at the Max Mueller Bhavan here in Bangalore, India. She went from being someone who was terrified of public speaking, to becoming a successful German language tutor. She’s come a long way after graduation. She dabbled in various things like being a part of the dot-com boom to working as an editor until she started learning this particular foreign language that had always fascinated her. She completed all the levels of the German language courses and exams at Max Mueller Bhavan and then went on to acquire the Grunes Diplom. This can be compared to an M. Phil, which is a prerequisite to start teaching at the Goethe Institute, eventually becoming a teacher at her alma mater.
On a personal note, Mamatha and I go way back. Actually 25 years back. Pretty much to the date I remember we met In June of 1996 when I joined college or my undergrad and there she was in my class. But I would say more than classmates we’re what I call Soul sisters and we’ve shared everything over the last quarter of a century.
She’s the epitome of friendship. She’s kind, she’s dependable, and she’s always there to give you a listening ear and comforting shoulder to lean on.
You can listen to our complete interview here on my podcast:
So before we go into the topic of our chat today, I would love for you to tell us a little bit more about how you were exactly drawn to German. It’s because I remember you said it started as a hobby, but you fell in love with the language.
I think my fascination with the language began sometime when I was in high school, so that’s when we studied European history. Studying about World War II – I know that is not exactly the best example probably – but somehow at that time studying European history, sort of drew me to Germany and the German language.
I never really got an opportunity to start learning the language until much later, so it was only after I got married that I actually got the time to start to enroll in our language course at the Goethe Institute.
When I started learning the language, I mean I didn’t even know whether I’m up for it. It was the first time I was making an attempt at learning a foreign language, so I just thought I would give it a try and see how it goes and I just fell in love with the language and it, but also came very easily to me.
So I remember you mentioned that in the intro as well that you are actually terrified of public speaking. So how do you go from being terrified of public speaking to becoming a teacher trainer in the German language? How did you realize this was your calling?
I have to thank my teachers and my former employers for that. I used to work as a freelance translator so I had to translate written documents for a particular company and they started a language institute and predominantly for Spanish. But then they started getting inquiries for other languages as well and they were keen about starting a German language course.
They wanted me to start teaching because I was anyway doing translation for them and I was very hesitant about it, so I said no, I don’t think I’m up for it. I know the language, yes, but I can’t
talk to a room full of people.
So my former boss asked me to do a trial run for two months with no long-term commitment.
For the first time, we had only about five or six students in the class, which worked out very well for me also.
By the time I finished teaching that course and going by the feedback that I got from my students at the end of the course, I realized I had found my calling.
The corporate world was not at all for me, but here in the classroom teaching German. It just felt right.
So I want to talk about social media now and I know that you did have a social media account way back, right? I think you were active on Facebook. What was it that made you decide to leave social media?
Yes, I did get onto Facebook. And yes, that was the only social media platform that I was on. I never got onto anything else so. I must have been active on it for about 8 years, I think.
So I’ve been off Facebook since 2013. I think that’s when I deactivated my account and it had nothing to do with security concerns and data privacy. Of course, I did watch those documentaries (The Social Dilemma and The Great Hack) and then after that I was more than happy that I decided to get out of this way back, but it was more out of personal concern.
About a decade ago I lost my mother and I went into depression at that point. So for about a year, I was in really bad shape. At the same time, I was still on Facebook. You know what we all do on Facebook. You’d look at your friends’ profiles and you look at their pictures. And somehow I realized that that was not helping me because you see others having perfect lives and then it just makes you feel so inadequate.
People only want to show the good parts of their life out there for the world to see. Theoretically, I knew that, but still, it really affected me and I think to an extent that prolonged my recovery.
So then I decided that, OK, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to compare my life to somebody else’s and feel terrible about myself because hey, my life is actually not bad. I do have a good life.
And the other thing was I figured on Facebook ,I had some 300 or 400 or so-called friends. But the people who I was actually in touch with on a regular basis, I’ve been in touch with them over the years at from the time when there was no Facebook; just the good old telephone and I still continue to do that.
I think that for people who truly matter, you find ways to keep in touch. You don’t need Facebook. You don’t need social media.
That’s so true! So, as someone who doesn’t use social media, what are some of the things you do to stay creatively engaged? What is it that you do to tell people that yes, you can live a life of social media?
So for me, social media was never such a big part of my life, to begin with. I’ve always enjoyed reading – I’m a huge bookworm, as you know – and I continue to find joy in that.
In fact, during the lockdown, I think I’ve expanded my horizons of reading, so to speak, because I’ve been reading a lot of Kannada literature which I had not done before, and I’m discovering some gems of Kannada literature as well because my reading pace of Kannada is slower than English or German.
Of course, I love to bake. I find baking very cathartic and I think there are times when I just do nothing.
I feel very sorry for today’s children because it’s very, very different for them. They constantly want to be engaged with something or the other. They won’t know the joy of doing nothing.
Like I tell my daughter when she complains, “OK, I’ve done everything for the day. What else should I do? There is still so much time.”
I say it’s OK. Do nothing, get bored, enjoy getting bored. You know, as you grow older, you won’t get a chance to get bored, so enjoy it now while you can.
As a parent to a teen, what do you think is a role that parents can play as far as social media is concerned? What do you say when your kid says that all their friends are on social media?
Yes, she does have friends who are on Twitter or Instagram. But the good thing for me is she doesn’t really get tempted, so she doesn’t say that she wants to be on it. Other than that, I also tell her that I’m not on any social media. Yes, and it’s possible to have a life without it.
This is literally me walking the talk, so it’s so much easier when you say I don’t have social media, I have a good friend circle. I have a thriving, you know, life outside of social media, which interestingly I do have.
Yes, I wanted to ask you about that, especially when the pandemic hit last year and we all went into lockdown. We lost the ability to meet people in person. How has technology impacted your life in the last year and a half? Did you ever feel tempted to get back on social media because of the fact that technology is now an integral part of our lives?
When we shifted to online classes just two weeks after the lockdown, it was because we had to close the institute in March 2020. Of course, in those two weeks we had a lot of online training sessions happening because none of us were trained to teach online, but it was because we were halfway through a semester, we couldn’t take an indefinite amount of time.
And then of course, we started teaching online. So initially yes, there were a lot of hiccups, of course, because we were not familiar with the technology. We had to then find ways to make the classes interactive
We now continue doing that and I think after a year, I can confidently say that now I’m very comfortable teaching online. It saves me a lot of commuting time. I get more time to read and bake or just go for a walk in the evening, if I want to.
As an avid traveler yourself, how do you think travel and social media has influenced people today?
Of course, when I was on Facebook I saw lots of people put up travel photographs and even I’d put up a few pictures of Nature every now and then. The thought that would come to me even back then was that people are so busy taking pictures, they’re actually missing out on the beauty around them. They’re missing out on the very experience of being there.
You’re so busy trying to capture it all on film and trying to show off to the world that you’ve been here, that you’re actually missing out on the moment.
So would you say, would you say therefore, that social media has the possibility of taking us away from living in the present moment?
Yes, definitely there are other instances also, I mean, which I used to come across when I was on Facebook, which I would find very strange and funny. I would sometimes find couples wishing each other for their birthdays or anniversaries on Facebook. OK, so then you’re clearly doing it for the public. You’re not doing it for each other.
If I want to wish my husband on his birthday or anniversary, he’s here next to me.
Why would I wish him on Facebook unless I want to show off to the world and I want all the attention? I would find it a little strange.
Where do you think social media will be 5 or 10 years down the line? Do you think our kids will be using it? You think their grandkids will be using it? Or do you think that the Exodus has started?
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an exodus and I don’t think social media is going away anytime soon, I would hope I don’t know if I can predict that this is what would happen.
But my hope for the next 5 to 10 years would be that if people continue using social media, they should do so with more responsibility. Maybe use it less for personal use and more for professional use.
And as far as children are concerned, I think our generation of parents are also more aware. Probably when Facebook first came and when we were younger and all this game. We didn’t really think about the long-term implications of putting our data out there. So which is why it was easy for those companies to mine the data because that was not really something we were aware of at the time.
So my hope would be that people will be more responsible about how they use social media and you know, not giving out too many personal details and things like that. It’s our duty to inform the next generation about the perils they would be getting into if they are, you know, on social media.
We just have to be very conscious and very intentional about the way we use social media, if we choose to use it.
I don’t think social media is evil; it is definitely not evil. It’s just that you should be responsible about how you’re using it, and you should be very clear about what is your purpose for using this and if you are putting out a lot of personal information, then don’t cry about being stalked online because you’re inviting something into our life, of your own volition.
So yes, you have a choice. As she says, you have a choice to decide that if you do want to continue using social media, you have to make a choice to make sure that it is intentional that you are doing it for the right reasons.
And yes, please don’t share your personal data and then worry about the fact that you may be stalked or that your data is being tracked, because ultimately you’re giving that to the public, and therefore to the giant corporations out there.
So on that note, I would like to thank Mamatha for being here with us today and sharing so much about her experiences with social media and the reasons that she stayed off it, so I hope this has inspired every one of you listening to understand that yes, you can live a life without social media.
You don’t need to, but there is that choice if you want to ever pursue that.
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