Selfism and Preserved Beauty

On a cloudy, breezy day, I was silently gazing at rice paddy, standing at the office window. It was drizzling. The cheery plants were dancing merrily. Tiny drops of water, wafting in the air, touched me. Kissed me. I stood transfixed. Wondering what I was up to, some of the colleagues walked over to me. When I pointed to the plants, they immediately fished out their cellphones and began snapping themselves along with the paddy. Next, guess what? Yes! You’re right! The snaps were shared socially and public opinion solicited/elicited.
            The modern craze for photography reflects our fondness for preserved pleasure. It fits well in our “fast” world that knows little of freshness. Not many years ago, a camera was a fascinating gadget. It was a sort of magic box that could capture and store up what passed around. A ceremonial occasion–a birthday party or a wedding–looked so drab without a photographer. In fact, such occasions seemed photography sessions, after a fashion. People dressed up in their best for these sessions. Getting photographed needed as much skill as photographing. A photogenic smile was a prerequisite. Further, one had to learn to synchronize one’s eyes with the camera’s. In addition, some model postures were desired to be imitated. In all, getting photographed was no short of an anatomical feat. The click moment was often unnerving. Facing the camera, one had to contort the face into a forced smile. Eyes wide open. An ideal posture. Breath held back. One. Two. Three. Click! A sigh of relief! The bodies would relax. Later, the photos were kept in family albums with delicacy. These albums could record memories with greater lucidity than the human mind could.
            In the celluloid age, getting photographed was more like a theatrical performance: there was little room for retakes. Unlike it, the digital photography is excessively generous with retakes. It has turned photography into a craft-cum-pastime.
            Further, digital technology has blessed the world with cost-effective cameras. A cellphone comes in far handier. Operating it is just a child’s play, literally. The tiny memory card has largely dispensed with the need for traditional albums. No wonder, after eating, sleeping, gossiping–both online and offline–snapping is the fourth most common human (hyper?)activity.
            And selfie takes the cake. In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary rated selfie as Word of the Year. A selfie lover can be likened to Narcissus, the Greek mythical figure, who drowned himself in a pool of water while he was admiring his own image.
            Partly, selfieism grows out of human relish for preserved pleasure. People are skilled at seasoning what they see with the digital salt, just to ensure that it lasts longer. Observe, for instance, some tourist spots. These are swarmed with snap buffs. Everybody is busy snapping; only few enjoy themselves. And this snapping buzz is almost mindless. I am reminded of an incident: one of my friends showed me the snaps taken during his trip to Shimla. There were hundreds of them. I asked him to show me the best ones. He scoffed at my low photographic sense, “These are the best ones; the rest have been deleted.” Ironically, people are so anxious to preserve the now that they forget to live it altogether.

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