These days in Delhi, an advertisement ruling the airwaves and landscape is for a ‘camera phone’. The makers are selling a mobile phone, but the marketing pitch revolves around the theme that it is a phone for selfie takers! It has two cameras – one for selfies and another for group selfies! I wondered why the phone was not being sold as a phone, but riding on an accessory of the device!
My daughter threw light on this when I asked her, “Now days the image has taken over the written word. People want to chronicle life in images for the social media. And phones are increasingly used more for this new communication idiom!”
Was the image taking over the word in communication? That is debatable, but what caught my attention in her reply, was the acknowledgment of the desire to chronicle life.
I remember when I was young, leafing through photo albums was a part of social interaction on a visit to someone’s house. Whether interested or not, the photos had to be seen, while the host described in earnest detail – the last vacation or the development of their new born! Some time later, watching of marriage videos on visits became the norm. If you did not make it to the wedding, then watching the video recording was mandatory on the next visit. The dancing, dresses, food and peculiar moments that are an inevitable part of the great Indian wedding had to be watched in entirety!
I am sure many of us in the blogging world have kept diaries or journals when younger. Hidden them under beds, or between books. Poured out our dreams, hurts and loves in them. The significant thing about a diary used to be that it was intensely personal. A window to the soul, it was not to be read by others! The joy of blogging is in a way akin to keeping a journal. Bloggers share journeys of all kinds, and life experiences. The only difference being we put it on a public platform, and want more and more people to read and share it!
Whether it is through the age old mechanism of diary writing or present day blogging, or through ancient physical photo albums, video tapes or the current Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook timeline photos – the urge to chronicle our life has not diminished. It simply uses different modes of storage and retrieval.
In the 2004 movie “Shall We Dance”, there is a brilliant dialogue that tries to describe the role of marriage — “We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”
The most important thought captured in these lines is the need of human beings to have a witness to their lives. For the humdrum, great or gloomy, we look for witnesses. We seek these witnesses in our relationships, in social recognition, in work and in our ways of worship. Chronicling our lives for our witnesses is something we strive for throughout. It gives our existence meaning and value. The ‘likes’ we count, the retweets we seek, and the shares we log – are the witnesses to our lives in the new age of social media.
It is not that words are giving way to images, chronicling has always used both. It is simply the mediums that are changing, and increasingly becoming impersonal. When we flipped photo albums or shared our diaries with close friends – the people involved were around, you could hold a hand or give a hug. Now, our witnesses are around the globe, in different time zones, and often strangers whom we don’t even know. Facebook offers a thread of images describing your last revolution around the sun, while twitter analytics tell you which tweet got the maximum ‘impressions’!
Today, we chronicle the most intimate and personal moments of our lives, and put them out to the most impersonal and unknown to witness. Its a fault line that is fraught with uncertainty and surprising outcomes. Coping with this complexity is what we have to evolve towards, while we fulfill our basic human urge to chronicle life.