I Click, Therefore I Am
This article was originally publishing on The Speaking Tree, here.
‘Clicking still-lifes of self but no life in my self,’ writes Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati from Parmarth Ashram on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh
A new craze has begun — selfies. It is not actually brand new, of course, but in our cultural evolution, a few years still count as new. Somehow, the intersection of digital cameras, social media and instant feedback, have created a ripe and ready soil for Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z to fuse into Gen Me. It’s no longer enough to photograph a sunset and have my presence implicitly understood. Now it is all about the selfie of me with the sunset. It is me grocery shopping, me in an airplane seat.The favourite artistic genre of the day has become ‘Still-life with self.’ Phones in India are advertised not by the quality of reception or sound but by the clarity of selfies.The billboard advertisements are images of Bollywood stars taking their own selfies with whatever mobile phone is being advertised. Sharper selfies, clearer selfies, and easier selfies.This is now the standard upon which phones are marketed.
I, Me, Myself
During our sacred Ganga aarti each evening on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh,where I used to see an ocean of devotees with hands folded in prayer, today I see an ocean of outstretched arms with phones pointed toward themselves.More important than merging and melting into the experience — one that is said to have the power to grant moksha,liberation — has become getting a good shot of ourselves. Tragically however,that very instinct is what will keep me always at an arm’s length, or a selfie-stick length, away from the actual experience. Neurology and psychology explain that the way to ensure that experiences are wired deeply into our consciousness, is to really experience them the first time.The moments we remember forever,are moments of great emotional and sensual content.We can still see, hear, smell that moment, decades later. I fear that we are losing the opportunity to encode precious moments of our lives into our consciousness because we are not even consciously present, the first time around.If we live all the beautiful, positive moments with selfie stick in hand, jostling to get the right angle, wondering about when we’ll post the photo online, stuck in our thinkingminds, that renders traumatic moments as the only ones engraved on our psyche. Selfies have become disastrous not only to the opportunity of fully experiencing our lives,but they have also become downright dangerous.
According to various studies, there have been nearly three hundred selfiedeaths since 2014.These are people who fell from cliffs, drowned in rivers and oceans,were electrocuted, run over by a speeding train or mauled by a wild animal — all while attempting to take a selfie. I believe this obsession with clicking selfies arose because we all have a deep longing to exist — tangibly, palpably, to belong to the world around us. By continually taking our own photos and sharing them, it’s an attempt to prove to ourselves that we really exist, in some very irrefutable way.Yet, rather than reveling in the proof of our existence, we rely on specific feedback from others.Our sense of belonging and value is determined by how the rest of the world engages with our selfie. The selfie revolution is not merely one that is entertaining or giving a new form to self-expression. It is redefining how we understand our place in the world. Not enough likes, shares or comments, is a fundamental statement about the very nature of our existence and belonging on Earth.I don’t exist until you like the fact that I exist.I don’t belong until you comment positively on my belonging. Taking beautiful photos of ourselves in beautiful surroundings (or not so beautiful surroundings) is fine,of course. But can we use it as a vehicle to celebrate that which exists rather than a vehicle for proving or deepening that existence? I take this photo to celebrate my existence. I may, in my celebration, share it online to invite others to also celebrate.But the degree to which others become involved in my celebration of my own experience should not impact me.
The Ultimate Selfie
Art is tangible celebration of creation. Sometimes, we celebrate that which is beautiful, bountiful and fruitful. At other times, we celebrate that which is decrepit,barren and miserable. Either way,we,the artists,deep dive into the experience of creation — the light and the dark, the textures and sensations, the infinite range of colour and form and sound — and the pearl with which we emerge from our dive is what we present to the world as art. If selfies are a new form of art,then let’s remember what it is — diving into creation and emerging with an image. It is that deep dive, the drenched connection to creation, that births the image; not the image which births our existence. How to experience that am-ness? Ironically, one could say, it is by taking an inner ‘selfie.’ Most of us live in our outer world — our appearance, career, financial status, our relationships. But if we take the advice of sages and mystics and turn that eye inward, we experience a Self beyond appearances. We experience an ‘I-ness’ that remains constant throughout the everchanging seasons of the body, throughout ups and downs of our financial worth or social status. If we can hold that experience of our true Self in our mind’s eye, it makes for the ultimate never-fading Selfie.