[Warning: This is a rant about a rant. Proceed only if you absolutely must.]
A few weeks ago this opinion piece from the Guardian did the rounds, as such articles tend to, in a rapid flurry of shares on facebook. Angst about how deep the far-reaching tentacles of social media run, is so common. We all have it from time to time. After every few weeks of mindless posting, it is essential to balance it out with a requisite number of omg-why-am-I-doing-this, why-am-I-on-fb, why-am-I-following-this-compulsive-posting-person, WHAT-IS-THE-POINT-OF-LIFE-EVEN posts. Ranting about the onslaught of social media has become as fashionable as using social media itself. Every few months someone must get agitated about how the curated life is all so futile, how our kids are frying their brains, and how it is so sad that we now consume everything off our screens. Someone will even go so far as to say all this possibly signals the death of curiosity and enquiry and nobody has the time to stop and smell the roses. Like Rana Dasgupta here. And the handful of people who shared this on my fb (who I noticed all have one thing in common – they’re mostly extremely averse to change and getting in with the new).
If I could sum up Dasgupta’s rant in the Guardian in one sentence it would be this: everything has changed, and I don’t understand it, so I don’t like it.
I get it. As someone who frequently questions how much I really need to use fb, routinely deletes things I’ve posted in retrospect, and who often overthinks a lot of what I share on fb and instagram so much, I get the general sentiment. I was an whiny worrier at one time. Heck my angst took me to eschew all social media for a good long while too. So, I get it can sometimes be scary. Because there’s change, and then there’s change in the digital world that is exponentially scarier because it is that much faster and harder to keep up with. And because it is digital, it hits in you in the face all the time. So I may even empathise, just a little bit, with the older folk who sometimes cannot wrap their heads it.
Dasgupta makes some valid points, things we all stop to ponder about very often. These are things many of us rant about on those very same platforms we are so filled with angst about. In public, for others to read, see, share their views about. And there are others who rant in private, claiming the need to back off and curtail how much of they put out there, even as they post a selfie of themselves deliberately dressed, or a view of a hyper-curated corner in their kitchen, or a shot of what they’re reading/eating/sniffing/doing, or even just another glorious sunset that they felt like documenting. (In case you missed the sarcasm, I’m talking about me. All me. I’ve done/do it all.) I think the angst about the apparent futility of excessive documentation that social media allows is universal. How we choose to deal it, how we wield the collective power of the beasts that are these platforms and how much or how little we choose to let them invade our lives, is entirely personal. And a matter of choice.
There are two things Dasgupta seems to be very upset about: 1) The range of media and the hyper documentation they allow. 2) The fact that posting vignettes is now so easy and accessible, just about anyone can document anything they wish – whether it is a view they want to snap to savour later, or a chocolate cake in a Parisian café, or a memory of a beach trip with friends.
I find them both problematic problems to have. First, human beings have been documenting their everyday realities since the beginning of time. We wouldn’t have art, books, poetry, music or movies, if it weren’t for people who tried to tell stories in every way they possibly could. People have been documenting all kinds of big and small things since pretty much the beginning of man. The tools and ways of doing it have evolved. And thank God for that.
Second, it just sounds to me like Dasgupta hasn’t figured out Instagram, and is experiencing FOMO. Again, I relate because I feel that way about snapchat. I just cannot figure it out. Never have I used such amore unintuitive and non-user-friendly application, so I dismiss it as something for “the millennials.” Thats my FOMO talking, I know it. But most of all, I just feel that although Dasgupta raises some really valid and sensible questions about the patterns of use, all of it is lost in the layers of condescension and disdain.
“Despite all the work that social media users do to document themselves from one day to the next, what is recorded is not life. Rather it is death-in-life: it is “existence” from which life has already fled, leaving behind a digital husk. Our social media footprint is an obituary we write ourselves – a set of remembrances we leave for future generations to give strength to this simple, spurious claim: that we lived.”
I want to tell Dasgupta, much like I wanted to tell the peeps who happily shared this piece on fb, expressing similar views as the author, perhaps cutting back just a wee bit on this extremely morbid take on what is essentially documenting, we could have a dialogue and make see that this (quote above) is true for all forms of storytelling – from books to music and everything else in between.
So, I don’t feel sorry about curating my life in pictures. Because it helps me remember, it forms the basis for a lot of things I choose to write about, it helps me act on ideas that otherwise would be fleeting thoughts, and a lot of it just serves as a live account of things I did, places I went and what it made me feel. All of it is accessible, all the time, within reach. All I have to do is use my phone and I think that is incredibly exciting.
It reminded me of an image that was also shared on fb by a lot of the same lot, that someone then fixed to read: