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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Life, camera, boredom

If you photograph every moment as being ‘special’ then soon there will be no ‘special moments’ at all

Have smartphone; will take pictures. That seems to be the motto everyone lives by these days. So, no moment of our day goes undocumented, no meal is eaten before first being captured on camera, and everyone from pets, children, spouses, friends, lovers, passers-by, get photographed several times in the course of a day. If we are on holiday, things tend to get completely out of hand, as we chronicle every moment as it happens, just to be sure we are not missing out on documenting something really important. And that’s not counting the selfies, the self-portraits we take obsessively, day in and day out.

And it’s not as if these pictures just live on our smartphone memory cards. The process isn’t complete until every image (except the unflattering ones that are deleted instantly) is posted on some social media platform or the other for your friends, family, colleagues, and complete strangers to ‘like’ or ‘favourite’, or respond to with a gushy comment or two.

I really have no problem with this. If taking pictures incessantly and sharing them with the world is what rocks your boat, then go right ahead (though I hope you won’t mind if I avert my gaze discreetly). But I do wonder if in this mad race to let no moment go unrecorded, we are losing out on something that all of us deserve: those special moments that are captured on camera and trigger off happy memories every time we see them.

My generation has plenty of those. There are the grainy baby pictures taken by the proud dad in the first flush of parenthood, which still evoke a smile even though the composition often leaves a lot to be desired and the picture quality has deteriorated over time. There are those photos that freeze-frame our awkward phase, as we pose for the school photographer at a Teacher’s Day or Children’s Day function or even at the annual prize-giving ceremony, and which our children giggle at snidely. There are the honeymoon pix, immortalizing the fashion of a decade that style forgot, which make us wonder: ‘Did I really wear that? What was I thinking?’

But for all their cheerful amateurism, their potential for embarrassment, their sheer cheeziness on occasion, these photos are like a window into a more innocent, happy time, when there were no filters to make everything glow, when realism held its own against fakery and photo-shop. These pictures still have to power to move us, whether it is to laughter or tears, joy or sorrow. They are little vignettes of our past, which unlock memories that we had thought lost forever.

Will that pleasure ever be available to Generation Cameraphone? After all, how special can any one memory be if every single one of them is immortalized in a photograph? If every moment is seen as special, and worthy of being frozen on camera, then is any moment truly special? If you chronicle every living moment does any one moment remain memorable?

The truth is that pictures tend to lose their power and poignancy when there are so many of them that your primary emotion is of being overwhelmed by sheer numbers. And going by the way everyone tends to go bonkers the moment they get access to a cameraphone, we will all soon be completely swamped by pictures of our every living-breathing moment, lovingly altered by a flattering filter. But none of them will have the ability to truly move us, because while familiarity may not breed contempt it will certainly engender boredom on a colossal scale.

So, we may well be the last generation to have our memories encased in photo-albums that are pulled out at family reunions, and laughed and cried over in equal measure. The ones who come after us will have seen it all on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Whathaveyou, and been bored out of their skulls in the process. The last thing they will want is to look at another picture. And if they do look at it, their first instinct will be to mouth ‘like’ and move on, instead of reliving the moment it freeze-frames.

What they will have is gimmicks. A series of selfies shot every day for a period of ten years, put together in a time lapse, to show how a cute little boy/girl grew up into a moody/handsome/sexy grown up. Travel pictures manipulated to show rainbows even when none appeared; landscapes digitally altered to show hues that don’t exist in nature; and of course the wonders of photo-shop applied indiscriminately.

But all this trickery will not be enough to create the immediacy of the photographs of another time, those that were special for being taken only on special occasions, those that had meaning because they captured meaningful events, and those that live on forever because they encapsulate the best moments of our lives.

As for us, I fear that we will soon become a society that misses the wood for the trees. Or, in words that Generation Cameraphone can understand, a society that will miss the images for the hashtags.

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