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

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The new normal

What seemed strange just a few years ago no longer causes any raised eyebrows

It struck me first a few months ago when I was away on holiday. No matter which restaurant I went to, expensive or cheap, formal or informal, trendy or old-fashioned, the diners seemed to be more interested in photographing their food than eating. The moment a dish was placed on the table, everyone would whip their smartphones out and begin clicking away. If the restaurant was badly-lit, the pictures were taken with flash, which annoyed me immensely, but left everyone else unmoved.

That’s when it hit me. This is the way diners are expected to behave in restaurants. Because if you don’t take a picture of that exotic new dish you ordered, can you really be sure that you actually ate it? For that matter, can we? So, everyone clicks away while the food grows cold. And nobody thinks that this is at all odd. This is, in fact, the new normal. 

And that got me thinking. How many things that we earlier considered decidedly strange do we now regard as completely normal? The selfie is the first thing that comes to mind. The days when taking pictures of yourself pulling duck faces was seen as a sign of a serious narcissistic personality disorder are gone. Now, the selfie has become so commonplace that nobody even comments on it, leave alone give you strange looks when you take one.

It is that other new-fangled contraption that attracts odd looks when you use it. Yes, I am talking about that plague on human civilization, called the selfie stick, that is rapidly conquering every tourist spot, every museum, every historical palace, one picture at a time. But how long do you think it will be before we start seeing this as entirely normal as well? Going by the selfie experience, not very long at all.

So, what are the other things that best embody the new normal? Well, it is a long list, but here are just a few things off the top of my head.

Cosmetic work: There was a time when those who resorted to plastic surgery or cosmetic intervention of any kind were seen as vain, even deluded, for trying to interfere with the work of nature. No longer. These days, getting Botox and fillers is seen as being as commonplace as getting a facial or a manicure/pedicure. Nobody raises an eyebrow (possibly because they can’t) if you confess to having had your face ‘done’. Most women who can afford it have their dermatologist on speed dial, scheduling a Fraxel laser treatment or a Thermage session. And nobody thinks anything of it.
The mainstreaming of porn: The arrival of the Internet made porn readily accessible to anyone who knew how to use a search engine. But there was still a stigma attached to it; people made sure to delete their search history every time they ventured online for a little titillation. Those days are long gone. With the runaway success of books like the Fifty Shades of Trilogy and much else, porn has gone mainstream. (It helps that reading it on a Kindle or any other hand-held device makes it embarrassment-proof as well.) One of the biggest beneficiaries of this trend is Sunny Leone, the porn star who has now been embraced by Indian audiences as a mainstream star.
Blended families: The era of the nuclear family is over. With divorce rates mounting and re-marriages becoming increasingly common, the blended family is what it is all about these days. Ex-husbands, ex-wives, new wives, new husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, live-in partners, step-kids, half-siblings, step-siblings, all jostle each other around the family table on occasions like Diwali, Holi, Onam or Lohri (or even, this being India where we celebrate every festival we can get out hands on, Christmas and Easter). They eat, they drink, they laugh, they squabble, they sulk, they make-up, they eat and drink some more. It is a beautiful sight.
Start-ups: Just as in my generation, everyone you spoke to was writing a novel (or thinking about writing one), in the new generation that has just been decanted from college, everyone is working on a start-up (or at the very least talking about working on a start-up). Names like Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal are thrown about along with figures that make my mind boggle as everyone talks up the valuation game. All I know is that if I had a dollar for every start-up that I hear about, I would have enough money to launch a start-up of my own.
Over-sharing: As the joke goes, in the old days you put all your inner-most thoughts and feelings into your personal diary and got seriously annoyed if anyone read it; these days you put all your inner-most thoughts and feelings on to social media, and get very upset if no one pays attention. This is an age of putting it all out there. Your holiday pictures go on Facebook and you wait anxiously to see how your friends react. Every stray thought makes its way on to Twitter, and you measure your self-worth by how RTs (that’s retweets in case you are still living in the 20th century and have not discovered Twitter) it notches up. And then, of course, there are all those food pictures cluttering your phone, which duly do duty on Instagram to tell people what a charmed life you lead. What’s not to ‘like’?


hemen varma said...

Very perceptive and a bit disturbing. Kudos to your powerful sense of observation.

Unknown said...

Ma'am I simply love your articles. Nice article.