Reel vs Real

Scrolling through a few of my childhood photo albums, a provocative thought struck me so hard that I could not help myself,but share it.

I have had the privilege of traveling to umpteen places during my childhood, especially religious sites around the country. Since my father works for Indian railways therefore, it is imperative that any distance never seemed far as long as rail squeals could be heard in the proximity. Also thanks to his religious devotion and adventurism, by the time I reached college, I had already set my foot at least once in more than ten states of India.

Then and Now

Erstwhile, we did not possess any camera accompanying our trips. Hence, there is hardly anything to reflect upon as far as the proofs or souvenirs of the places are concerned. Whenever I scroll through any of the old albums, it’s a nostalgic feeling seeing your younger self and the whole family together, cheering up for a toothy grin. Courtesy to few other families who’d accompany us, we managed to have few pictures here and there. But whatever we have is certainly not proportional. And it kind of sucks in a way. Often my sister and I rant to our parents as to how amazing it would have been if only we had a camera with ourselves.

But in retrospect, when I look at the bigger picture, I feel it was only for the greater good that we did not have any recording device. Because somehow, those few pictures never helped me connect to those place or the moments, that are etched in my head.Although I do have a lot of memories with me about a particular trip, but certainly can not recall the moment when we as a family unit posed for that picture.

For me, the photos acted only as a testimony of the visit. Nothing more. What I cherish and value much more are those memories-those profound, unfiltered, unperturbed and unadulterated memories. The uniqueness of those moments is that any camera never captured them, and I don’t think any could even afford to do.Not just only in the past, but in the future too. Those moments don’t require any true calling, physical or digital storage space. They just happen to float in our heads, visit us back and fro and making us smile time and again, often at times when we don’t think they will. We actually tend to live with them. Only a severe head blow that rids us of our memory can set us apart.

So long thing, in short, the photographic memory is way more substantial and eternal than the photo itself which is nothing but patterns of light and dark on silver treated reels of plastic film or any digital information in today’s world. And hence it should only be given its due importance. However, the current skewed trends paint a different picture altogether. And it is something I am apprehensive of as to where are we headed in the times to come?

It might seem that photographs help timestamp our lives in a certain way, but the truth is that we’ve become so obsessed with the process of preserving our experiences that we forget to enjoy the moment, then and there itself.

Talking about cameras, there is a marked distinction between the times when people scarcely had any analog cameras and now, when they are in ubiquity, embedded in their mobile phones.

In Pre-Camera times, the excitement before embarking a trip was more about the places we will explore, the food that we will relish, the weather we will experience, and the people we will meet. What has now been added to the paraphernalia are concerns like dresses to wear, having multiple outfits for different locations,empty SD cards and clinch even the window seat in flights so as to capture the lower stratosphere or even mountains if we are lucky. Things would have still been fine if these aspirations were an end in itself rather than means,means to capture the moment.

Relentless Pursuit of Validation

Nowadays during any trip,as soon as we reach a location,it comes only naturally to us that let there shall be photo sessions –Individual Session, Candid Session, Group Session and lately the Reels Session, where even weather can change in a matter of split seconds, besides your dress. Truly an incredible innovation of humankind.

All this for what? Posting stuff! And, if not for posting, storing things to revisit those moments when we feel like it. But here is the catch. How many of us actually go back to those pictures and even open them amidst our busy schedules. It will be an interesting data point, if researched upon.

Also with most of our pictures stored in virtual albums, the cloud, and the web, I sometimes worry about their fate. If the system develops a glitch, will all our memories be lost, gone in a flash, reduced to cyber dust? Also, let us unanimously acknowledge that we are heading towards the era of Cyber warfare,so one never know. On the other hand,memories live with us in a non committal relationship unlike our photos which are rotting in our accessories like laptops, phones or even social accounts. So let us at least be mindful of how highly we need to place them in our lives

Sadly, instead of living the moment, clicking the moment has occupied the centrestage and has became a norm. A norm that would act as a source of validation for the visitors, their social circle, and even their social account. Few people even have a hard time believing that you have actually visited the place unless you post some photos of the same. Least to say,it has compounded the frenzy. And consequently any trip is not even considered complete if one has no picture to show. This validation-seeking behavior can even get crazier in times to come.

The lookout for validation stems from insecurity. Any temporary complement or proof can only delay the insecurity but will never completely extinguish it and thus insecurity is bound to burn you back. Therefore, the pursuit of validation is going to be eternal. Hence instead of running around, trying to capture your exterior self in different locations,poses and dresses, genuine efforts should be made to capture and get hold of our inner self.

This paranoia of pushing our lives behind the lens is acceptable as long as it is a trend but let us ensure it doesn’t culminate into a culture, because culture after a point of time may lose rationality, as it has been seen in almost all the religions around us. From there on, it is only a downhill road-going forth. Living the moment and making genuine photographic memory can still be the most satisfying experience if we make a healthy retreat in time.

Kudos to those who have successfully drawn a fine line between moments and pictures and my two cents of caution for folks on the other side.

Two kinds of People

Amongst any group, there are diverse set of people. First, There are people who like to stroll through the woods and find their peace in the miraculous nature, and then there are others, who coerce the former behind the lens to capture them. The latter breed doesn’t have much regard for topography, the vegetation, culture and the weather of the place. Instead, they are obsessed with the perfect background for their picture, the ideal light for a sun kissed photograph, the perfect pout, the ideal hairstyle and the list is almost endless. These situations don’t often end up nicely for the former, and they finally submit with their stoic attitudes, owing to group dynamics. The story doesn’t end here; it is somewhat a beginning, the beginning of a myriad of shots just to ensure one gets the perfect picture, sans closed eyes and twisted smiles. Often those shots do not end up well, opening the flood gates of unsatisfaction. And as there are good possibilities for retakes because all it needs is a click, so why not ??

From my simple understanding, the utility of a picture is to enhance our experiences, but they actually end up diminishing it. This is not at all in congruence with the purpose of the visit. One should never forget that the pictures can’t always be perfect,in fact they are mostly imperfect. But the memories are always perfect, so why not control the controllable and invest more in living the moment rather than spoiling it for us and for many others

Personal Account

I recall attending the Beating retreat ceremony at the Attari Wagha border during the summer of 2009 in pre-camera times. It was a spellbinding moment watching the disciplined, poised army men in their uniform and exalted headgear perform to signal the closure of the border for the day.

The emotions were so strong that I had developed goosebumps toward the end of it, besides experiencing a strong sense of patriotism while cheering up for our Jawans. I don’t know if my experiences would have been the same if I had the camera with me erstwhile, where I would have been focusing more on covering the crowd, the Jawans, the other side of the border, zooming in & out and finally having a selfie to top it all. The other variables would include whether the pictures are good enough to post at the end or to show around. Good chances that I would have been bereft of those electrifying emotions.

Analyzing the entire premise of the trip, it seems that we are taking some time off to break away from mundane things where we can all be by ourselves or even with people with whom we resonate and spend quality time with. I am sure by the ubiquity of our mobile phone, it indeed belongs to the list of mundane objects. I don’t know to what extent defying the purpose makes sense by killing the moment and living in the synthetic reality of pictures.

Amidst all this, it is only disturbing to come across news of people meeting an accident , ending up their lives while getting clicked. It has woefully become a fortnightly affair. On similar lines is the sight of people using a go pro while rafting or any other adventure sport. I don’t know if they have given it a thought that they are somewhere compromising away with the original kick and adrenaline rush of the sports. Maybe they don’t even get to know what it is to be actually experiencing the sport, courtesy, Go-Pros. In fact attempting to create records for those priceless moments only belittles them.

I was also fortunate enough to be handling a go pro whilst a pool party during my farewell, recording those precious moments with my college friends. But the limelight was somewhere stolen by the camera, besides liquor, of course. We indeed enjoyed looking at those recording the day after, but in retrospect, it came at a cost — the cost of the moment itself. A cost-benefit analysis would have been handy then, but then nobody was sober enough to do it.

The Fallout

One of the other far-reaching consequences of obsessing around with a lens has been the poor ability to recall details. In 2013, an experiment was performed by a group of psychologists at Fairfield University in Connecticut that looked at the effect of taking photos at a museum. They found that participants who took pictures of statues could recall fewer details later than those who spent a similar amount of time simply looking at the art. This handicap is easily visible in our daily lives when we compare the photographic memory of our previous generations with ours. Hands down, they have a way better memory of the routes they traversed even once vis à vis ours.

Few of my friends will consider me a hypocrite for writing this piece of holiness after having done many of those mentioned above, and rightly so. But one cannot be perpetually stigmatized for past conduct because life is all about evolution. Sometimes we have delayed understanding of events. And better late than never.

Talking about evolution, few digital anthropologists in Great Britain are even studying the biological changes that can occur due to pouting over time. We all have got loads of beautiful friends who look lovely with a beaming smile when they are out laughing, but as soon as the camera points in their direction, their lips automatically morph into this silly wannabe fish-face pout! Still don’t know why? Personally, I feel they should pout less, smile more, in reel as well as real.

The Sunny Side

Looking at the other side of the narrative, it simply can’t be denied that photos add to our memories, and rightly so, given our brain is a hard disk with a limited capacity. And why not use drives or even posting platforms to store some? A flawless argument, indeed. In fact, even I enjoy stumbling on few random photos out of the blues. They have their own aesthetics, and their importance can never be undermined.

Also not trying to look down upon any of the photographers out there who derive pleasure in showcasing the beauty the world has to offer through their lenses. Instead, I am grateful to them for the knowledge, awareness and unprecedented value they are adding through their artwork to the global community. Isn’t it amazing that you can visit so many places visually, just at the click of your fingers? Funnily, with the advent of technology and penetration of mobile phones everybody has become an artist

It has even become staple for many with the growth of digital ads and promotion biz. If it can employ people, it is only for the greater good of humankind. Also, not to forget the new breeds of so-called Influencers running an entire industry.And it will be rather absurd if nobody clicks and posts because we are also consumers of the same content simultaneously. Imagine a world where nobody has any digital memory of his past. This Idea is outightly unrealistic as it would make the entire ecosystem ominous and defunct.

Towards mindfulness

Today, photos are essential and revolutionary part of our lives. Still, it’s important not to get carried away. Let’s not insult ourselves by acting as our entire existence can be defined by a simple snapshot. It is necessary that you make your peace with the real rather than reel, unedited version of yourself and your life, and the rest will fall into place. For those who have already watched “The Social Dilemma”, the idea might be more appealing vis à vis others.

The benefits of any technology will always outweigh its drawbacks, just as long as it’s used and implemented in rational ways. It’s only when a person’s reliance on a particular device turns into an all-consuming habit that issues arise, but in this age of convenience and opportunity, the threat of excess always looms high.

Anyways, we must realize the importance of looking inward instead of validating the outward self, of creating new memories instead of forcibly recording them, of adjusting our attitudes instead of our accounts, and of setting our own standards instead of seeking self-affirmation from others based on some petty digital accounts

This tendency of going to a place and instinct of getting clicked should be looked into and thought upon, And most importantly, it should not become a culture in times to come. Remember we need the photos; the photos don’t need us. Let us thrive for moments rather than a picture. And on this note, let us distinctly mark the territory of Who’s who? The Master and the Servant. Otherwise, there will be eternal border skirmishes between the two, which can often escalate into wars — the war between Reality and Ostensibility

Thankfully the Pandemic has slowed down this Pandemonium, but let’s see for how long this juggernaut can be held back? Hope it’s for eternity.

Visit places, Look around, Pause,Expand your imagination, Know the culture, Visit the eateries and Enjoy the delicacies, instead of just portraying it, blogging it, and killing the purpose altogether. Most importantly, don’t let your peace be a function of petty tangibles be it clicks, impressions, likes, hearts or comments.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it is surely not worth a thousand memories.

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