The Photo Album Story: from bulky Family Albums to Going Digital to Digital Hoarding

There was a time, little over a decade ago when family photo albums used to be such prized possessions. Old albums with black & white photographs, butter paper separating each sheet, gave way to the newer plastic album with coloured photographs. I still remember the feel of browsing through those old family albums, fingering the photographs, some of them faded, lovingly. My grandparents posing stiffly with their children, my mom in her school dress or the wedding pictures of parents. Those albums had an intimate appeal, there was something strangely warm about their mothy smell. Then came the bright and happy plastic albums with coloured photographs, mostly pictures of us growing up, cousins getting married.

The charm of black & white

Wedding albums were another story altogether. They were great fun when from a wedding of someone close in the family. I loved flipping through them with my cousins, re-living the moments, sometimes admiring ourselves, sometimes laughing at our silly make-up and hairdo. However, I would dread visiting a neighbour or a distant relative who just had a wedding in the family. For that visit would invariably involve having to go through the bulky wedding album and pretending to admire the bride, the groom and the family who I hardly knew or cared about, accompanied by the constant commentary of an enthusiastic aunt, most often the mother of the bride. Wedding albums were proudly displayed and presented with gusto to indifferent visitors who had to then put up a zealous show of browsing through them.

Then came the digital age. Photography went digital and so did the storage. We were not limited by film rolls or albums anymore. Photographs that were once taken only on special occasions, for film rolls were numbered and getting them developed was expensive, and you could only have that many albums, became an everyday affair. Armed with digital cameras we can take any number of photographs, mobile cameras allow us to take our own pictures, the famous or infamous selfies. And it gets better, we can share your photographs and albums with the entire world, we are not limited to your reluctant friends and relatives. Facebooks and Insta are flooded with photographs and selfies of morning moods, evening moods, happy poses, sad pictures, holiday albums, wedding albums, feeling good albums, just random clicks and not to miss the airport check-ins, especially from those travelling international. Like it or not, we get a peek into our distant relatives’, neighbours’, colleagues’ or acquaintances’ lives the moment we log into any social media platform. We are expected to participate by giving them a thumbs up for we are now ‘digital animals,’ netizens who connect and correspond online.   

Posing for FB

Like most people of my generations, I enthusiastically embraced various inventions of the digital age. My Yashica camera gave way to Sony Coolpix. Soon high megapixel mobile camera made Coolpix redundant. My laptop, mobile phone, google drive & Picasa web album are flooded with photographs. Like most netizens of my generation, I started posting photographs on FB and counting likes, as if the number of likes was all that mattered.  After the initial excitement and being bombarded by all kinds of photographs on social media, I became more a restrained and less enthusiastic netizen. I keep photographs in my mobile and my google drives for my own personal viewing, to be shared with close friends and family on request only.

My problem is quite peculiar. Once I click a photograph or get a photograph via WhatsApp, I somehow can’t delete it. Even after the pictures of my phone are saved to a drive for some strange reason, I can’t empty my phone gallery. As a result, I am flooded with thousands of photos, sometimes similar, flooding my phone and drives. Recent pictures, old B&W photos that I may have clicked or received, similar pictures of me looking out of the window or posing in a sari, my nieces and nephews smiling, birds over flying over a lake, a fort. One side of my brain knows my mobile gallery needs to be emptied, similar shots deleted, the other vehemently argues what if I lose something valuable by deleting those pictures. Maybe it’s the hoarding mentality being carried forward to the digital age, making me a digital hoarder!

Digitally DisConnected!

It’s a bold new world! Everything is within our reach. We have thousands of friends and followers from across the globe thanks to FB, Instagram, snapchat and similar social media platforms. We can chat for hours with friends, classmates or family sitting in different corners of the world on WhatsApp groups. Courtesy free video calls the sense of alienation owing to distance or geographical barrier has been almost eliminated. I can talk to my cousin in Hong Kong or my best friend in France, see what they are wearing or comment on their new hairstyles whenever I want (different time zone is the only challenge that we need to work around). No more long waits for a letter from a far-off land, no more worrying over huge telephone bills. And that’s not all, be it a new job, a new home or a perfect match you can find it all online. With these amazing digital platforms, we can make the world dance to our tune!

We are so dazed by the sudden onslaught of digital technology that we sometimes don’t have time for a real face-to-face conversation. According to a survey by Common Sense, a children’s and media advocacy organization, texting is the favorite mode of communication for US teens. And the lure of Netflix, smartphones and social media is so strong that young Brits are losing their libido, according to a new study.  And here comes the real shocker – a Malaysian teen committing suicide after conducting an Instagram poll, an overwhelming 69% prompted her to choose death.

We often hear or read about young girls or women being cheated or raped by lovers they found online. Recently, news of an affluent woman in her 50s being murdered by a man who she befriended on a certain dating app startled us. Sometimes we also come across men who have been taken for a ride of these platforms. We shake our heads upon reading such news, sometimes pass judgemental remarks, “How could she be so stupid/desperate?” “Dating at this age? She deserved it.” But a closer look will reveal that the problem is far deeper!

Image courtesy actonline.org

Social media is great, but overuse of these platforms is leading to psychological complications and mental health issues. Posting too many pictures on social media is leading to Narcissism. Social media anxiety disorder is impacting our relations and mental health. We so often come across annoying friends or relatives who can’t finish a sentence without checking their phones. Sometimes people conduct an entire conversation with their eyes on the phone or on the screen of their tablet. Yes, loss of eye contact, that’s another victim of the digital age. Eye contact or facial expression that is the key to connecting with another person, understanding what she/he is actually trying to communicate. With over-dependence on social media we are losing out on these personal nuances, and unwittingly building a hi-tech virtual and sometimes illusionary world around us. We are constantly connected with our virtual friends; we have no time to talk to our real ones. Sitting in the same room or lying on the same bed next to each other we are more concerned about the likes and thumbs up on social media platforms. We keep posting pictures of perfect family vacations, romantic holidays without realizing that we haven’t had a proper conversation with our family members or partners in months. We are so busy maintaining the virtual charade that we often don’t realize that our real world may be falling apart.  And ironically enough, we don’t really care about friends and followers on Facebook or Instagram, it’s all about putting up a better show!

By the time we realize that, haunted by self-induced isolation and loneliness we again seek refuge in social media, forgetting social media platforms are only the means and not the end. Loneliness makes us vulnerable; loneliness can make us do strange things. No wonder there are schemers, pranksters and sometimes dangerous criminals lurking in our supposedly perfect virtual world, luring us with their false identities and promises.

While Jack Ma’s 669 has got thumbs down is social media for being lewd, I would say sex is the key to happy conjugal relationships. It’s time we wake up to the real – physical intimacy, eye contact, a real face-to-face conversation!

Virtually Yours

There was a time, not so long ago, when a girl named Mohini lived in the real world. There was no internet, e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other virtual online platforms in that world. People visited each other, talked face to face, wrote letters and sometimes talked on the phone. Mohini loved her little real world. She visited her friends and relatives regularly, wrote frequently to those who lived in other cities, occasionally spoke to them over the phone.  Mohini loved writing – poetry, short stories, sometimes just her fleeting thoughts. In the journal next to her bedside table she would write every night before going to bed. Mohini’s family and friends encouraged her to write. She was often requested to read from her work in social gatherings, her poems were published in school magazines. Mohini hoped to publish her writings someday, reach a wider audience.

virtual world

                                                                                                     Image courtesy nyooz.com

Then one day the virtual world came into being. People talked to each other less and less, they chatted in WhatsApp groups or Facebook messenger or just Snapchatted. Letters, journals and family albums went out of vogue. People posted pictures, posts and messages in social media platforms. Orkut came and went. The generation moved from verbose Facebook, to picturesque Instagram, to funny & pictures only Snapchat. Of course, there’s professional LinkedIn and opinionated Twitter. The virtual media expanded our horizons, helped us connect with long lost friends. Soon we could connect and converse with people sitting in another end of the world in jiffy.

To Mohini, the virtual world presented the audience that she was aspiring for. She started posting her poems in Facebook and Instagram, created separate pages. The encouraging and sometimes the critical readers of the virtual world stimulated her. She connected with so many wonderful people, joined groups that helped her read and write better. She learnt about writing competitions and contests happening across the world.  “These are wonderful platforms that are taking me closer to my dreams,” she thought happily. She felt safe in the virtual world; it gave her the space to create without being judged.

But Mohini’s illusion of a safe and unprejudiced virtual world soon came crashing! The virtual world inherited all the vices and the prejudices of the real world, the wider audience only made things worse. There was no privacy anymore, once you posted something in the virtual world it was out there for everyone to see and comment on. Soon, there were virtual stalkers who terrified Mohini. She felt so harassed that she went off social media platforms for a while. She came back wiser and blocked her stalkers from all her social media sites. “Thank god for technology that allows us to block such vile people,” she sighed in relief.

Though the stalkers were gone the incessant pinging, messenger calls, uncomfortable questions irritated Mohini. “Are you single?”, “How old are you?” “Would you care to date an older man?”, “Madam what’s your idea of love?”, “Can I have your number?” etc. etc. Though there are separate platforms for dating and match making, citizens of the virtual world just didn’t seem to realize the difference. The virtual world evolved and grew so fast that virtual citizens probably failed to realize that this world too is governed by etiquette, as much as the real world.

For Mohini the virtual world is exciting albeit its draw backs and irritants. She valued the friendships and associations she made in the virtual media platforms and decided to share her reflections with her virtual friends…

Dear friends,

I am glad we connected virtually! We have shared so much and learnt from each other’s experiences. I read your wonderful poems and short stories, learnt about new things, visited places I never knew existed. Your fresh perspectives and views inspired me. You are my wise audience you who help me write better!

But sometimes we forget that the virtual world is like our drawing room. We showcase what we are comfortable sharing, so let’s not peek into each other’s bedrooms. Let’s respect privacy and boundaries and make this journey enjoyable and meaningful!

Virtually yours,

Mohini