Dividing Lines: I click, therefore I am

Yearendings are odd times to write thoughtful pieces. As you write them, you want to look back, telescope views across a year to see what’s significant, what’s silly.

There’s the politics of Narendra Modi and the decline of the Congress. But it lacks the magic of history. It’s same old. It’s the craze for selfies as a new word and a ritual dominates this year’s history.

A selfie represents a nexus between instant history, technology and the person. A selfie is as different from a photograph as chalk is from cheese.

A selfie is an attempt to record memory as history while it is being made. It is self-conscious but not self-reflective.

A photograph is a totally different species. It emerges from a different context. It is occasional, it is memorable, and it is often focused on all ritual events like birth and marriage.

For a selfie, any moment is an event. A photograph is taken by another person. A selfie is shot by the individual of the individual as history is taking place.

An ordinary photograph is a visual record in a textual world. A selfie is an information byte of the visual self in a digital world.

The photograph freezes time and embarks memory. The selfie is a visual telegram emphasising speed and erasure. It might be obsolescent as the next effort follows a few seconds later. In a photograph, a self is monumental. In a selfie, the self is momentary.

The photograph captures major events, a selfie captures any moment as an event. One celebrates the momentary, the other perpetuates the historical.

The notion of the self in both is radically different. In a photograph the self is composed; the individual almost stands like a statue. In a selfie the individual is just a flicker of the moment.

The folklore of the two rituals is different. A photography is a craft, a technical art form. It demands patience and skill.

A selfie only needs an urge. It devalues skill and celebrates the ultimate democracy of consumerism of technology. It is a record which does not count tournaments.

It is a narrative act which emphasises the instantaneous. A photograph is a public event, while a selfie merges privacy, transparency and intimacy. It is an instant record which asks for an immediate response.

The selfie virtually says, I click, therefore I am. In that sense, a photograph captures embedded self to be seen again and again. A selfie portrays a global self where memory is momentary. A photograph has an officiousness to it, while the selfie is a personal signature.

A wag once complained that a selfie can change the logic of fairytale. Think of the wicked Queen in Snow White, when she asks the mirror on the wall, “Who is the fairest of them all?” In a modern tale, instead of the mirror, the selfie will provide the answer.

A selfie adds a peculiar quality of the personal to history. One thinks of Mr Modi shooting himself with a BJP symbol and President Barack Obama capturing himself at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

These are major events, but the selfie produces a little moment of narcissism that you share with others. It is not history that is important, but your place in it.

A photograph as a sense of defence. The photograph conveys personal significance and shared enjoyment of a ritual event. A photograph is the whole deal, while the selfie is celebrating a lick from the lollypop of the self.

A photograph demands to be filed, archived and preserved. A selfie demands immediate attention to be followed by benign neglect.

The selfie and the photograph convey two separate ideas of technology, memory and the individual. Firstly, in a selfie, technology is no longer an art form, it is not even a skill.

It is minimal competence taken for granted,like breathing. You breathe a self to the selfie. A selfie is a self only if it is reproduced every moment.

A selfie is post-modern, while the photograph belongs to the modern age. Selfie belongs to the era of speed and obsolescence, while a photograph smells of memory, memorials and archives.

A photograph has no specific other. The other is both invisible and impersonal, while a selfie demands the gossip of the specific other.

A photograph is a product, a selfie is a moment in the continuous process of generating a perpetual sense.

Photographs are complete when they are taken. A selfie is complete when it is posted. Photographs can be consumed quietly and patiently.

It can wait for the other. A selfie is delirious for the other. A selfie is a narcissism of the self using the other as perpetual mirror.

A selfie changes the idea of order and history. Even in the grandest of collective moments, it is the self that counts, it is the self that is historical.

A selfie colonises all, the anonymous and the legendary. Both Mr Obama and Mr Modi, and the anonymous teenager take pictures before the Great Wall of China, but here the wall is not important.

It is not history. It becomes history as autobiography when you post your picture standing before the wall. In that sense, history is truly individualised.

Without the selfie, globalisation would be dull. History would be impersonal because the selfie adds a personal signature to turn history historical.

Think of yourself before the Taj Mahal, it is the fact that you are pouting that makes the Taj come alive. Without the pout, the Taj as history is irrelevant.

Yet, the beauty of the selfie is that it is every person’s addiction. It creates the law of the digital age which says, “I post, therefore I am”.


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