Deconstructing Pictures Posted on Social Media Part 1

39 Comments

Anushtup loved pictures. For him, they were a soft lens into the past, smoothing down the bumps and the ridges, freezing time down to happy faces and nice places. Memories, he always told himself, were different, they carried the bad as well as the good, though mostly the bad. But pictures, no one ever took pictures of themselves fighting or weeping or throwing stuff or lying down in the dark, looking out through the window. They just didn’t.

Yatrik (my forthcoming book, releasing September 2014)

As myriad Facebook albums  swim through my NewsFeed, sometimes I just want to wade in and say, ” I get it. Your life is perfect”.

For that is why we share pictures don’t we? I mean really? To project an idealization of our life.

Nothing new about this of course. In late 80s and early 90s when I was young, people didn’t have social media or computers. Which meant they talked to each other instead of to a screen and when you went to people’s houses, they would dig out albums, big bound tomes of floral covers and Kodak photos stuck to the pages, and show you pictures of their trip to Digha or of their daughter who was doing PhD in the States standing in front of Niagara Falls or the wedding they went to where mashima wore that set she got made from AC Sircar and did her hair at Sangam Beauty Parlor (I didn’t want to do it but I just had to), while misanthropes like me, who could hardly care, smiled politely and counted down to when we would take the L20 and go home.

Nowadays of course they just share on Facebook and count the Likes.

I will be honest. I don’t mind pictures. As a matter of fact, I love going through albums of friends and acquaintances. As an author and an observer of life, they provide fascinating insights into human character, interpersonal dynamics, changing social mores, and ideas as to how I should more perfectly project how perfect my own life is through pictures posted on social media.

In the course of my peripatetic peregrinations through the lives of others, as presented through jpeg and png pixels on my screen, I have isolated some tropes, or themes, that run through desi albums. Many of these tropes are restricted to those desis who have settled abroad (they tend to be more demonstrative of their success through gratuitous uploads of pictures, and the simplest explanation of that may be faster upload speeds and cheaper connectivity), while some(e.g. wedding) are more universal.

Any hurting of sentiment is purely intentional.

The car: When desi fresh of boat comes to the foreign, his first car, if bought within a year of arrival,will make it to his album. The one year is the window of innocence, when the fresh-of-boat doesn’t know that a 98 second hand Corolla or a 2000 Civic (even if it has a moon-roof) is the show-equivalent of a HMT watch.  It does not matter since his batchmates do not know any better and they will be mighty impressed, but this album is going to be deleted a few years hence. For example, I once saw an album where an alum from an engineering college most famous for producing best-selling authors, had posted a picture of a Hyundai 2003. Now since Hyundais in those days had lower resale value than a Corolla or a Civic, one could get a newer Hyundai for the same price of an older Toyota or Honda, and hence a Hyundai looked newer and more impressive. This aforementioned alum had then posted a caption which said, in essence, “gonna pick up gals”. I know that optimists live longer and have more fulfilling lives but believing tha you will pick up gals purely because you drive a Hyundai is stretching it slightly. Of course the purpose is served because I see loads of comments from batch-mates, without a speck of sarcasm in them, that go somewhat like “Yaar cha gya tu” (You have made it big) and “Aish hi Aish” (Fun and more fun) and “Guruji Tussi Great Ho and perhaps the most obvious “Peeche ka seat ko gandha mat karna” (Don’t dirty the back seat) to which the reply had been a most practical “Leather hai”. (It’s leather).

Some people of course choose not having pictures of cars in their albums. Like me. These are those who either find posting pictures of their vehicles too wannabe or drive lower end Japanese and Korean cars. Unrelated factoid: I drive a Hyundai Elantra 2013.

But then there are many who do post pictures of personal vehicles. The Silicon Valley stock-options type. The finance Wall Street top-MBA-school guy. The BMWs, the Audis, the Infinitis. Some of them may be second-hand but then you can never make that out from the pictures, since they are almost always “certified pre-owned” (which means well polished by the dealership). By this time, most have graduated beyond the most novice technique of captioning car-pictures as  “Mauja hi Mauja” on Facebook. By this time, his peers, who also have over the years wizened up, would scoff at such egregious fishing for approbation. The trick then becomes to blend the car into the scenery such that it carelessly stands out. For example, a picture taken from the backseat or front passenger-seat that focuses on the logo of the steering wheel, or a casual family-shot taken outside the car with your hand protectively on the hood. Touching the car becomes imperative if you are afraid someone may think you did the oldest dodge in the book, have a picture taken with random cool car in parking lot. Other strategies include having multiple foci in your picture—a Lexus and a beautiful partner, an Audi and a picture-perfect family,  a BMW and an empty driver’s seat, the last one of course if you are actively looking for someone to fill that seat.

Pictures of cars convey a lot of positive information, besides of course financial success. It means you are dynamic, live an action-packed day, (if you are single and have a BMW/Audi an action-packed night too) and have an eye for the fine things in life.

Of course those attributes may be conveyed by other things too—like pictures of bungee jumping, or of sitting in a posh restaurant with your significant other, or training for and running a 5K race.

In the next post we shall look at these in greater detail. And then we shall move on to wedding, honeymoon, pre-baby and baby pictures.

[NEXT PART]

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39 thoughts on “Deconstructing Pictures Posted on Social Media Part 1

  1. Deconstruct exotic vacation photos please…. this has been my constant source of online misery nowadays….

  2. I hv done nothing of the kind. Am too diffident/jittery (or unsuccessful) to do such things. But Arnab, this post of yours really made me embarrassed. I m actually quite flustered now.

    Not unlike watching “the king of comedy” …

  3. isnt blogging a way of portraying that same notion of idealization of one’s life? It shouts out loud, “Look! Here what I think of the world and its way better than what you think!”. Take a quick look at the comments you receive, a coterie of mutual back-slappers (I am proudly one of them). Does a “Cha gaye yaar!” differ greatly from a “Fair spoken, greatbong, nobly put, most excellently said.”?

    But what to do? “we are like that only”!

    • Well said. These posts seem like an ego defence mechanism or perhaps a maladaptive coping strategy. Its fun how the internet lets you watch how it plays out between the man’s super-ego, ego-ideal and perceived mediocrity. Guilty pleasure,since being in similar state:)
      “Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged unacceptable or unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; When “splitting” is combined with “projecting”, the negative qualities that you unconsciously perceive yourself as possessing, you consciously attribute to another”

  4. You finally started driving Arnab? Good job.
    I remember u mentioning long back you had fear of driving because of your tragic experience.

  5. Back to your best Arnab da!!! Waiting for the next ones… Nowadays everyone with a DSLR seems to consider himself/herself the Da Vinci of the photography world 🙂

  6. People in glass houses etc etc for someone with such an active Twitter presence. After all you also care about retweets, favorites etc and bask in the glory of the comments on your blog. Hypocrisy much?

  7. firstly loved the article classic greatbong as usual. totally relate to getting pissed off with oversharing of information. but over the years have got used to filtering the SHOW OFF KIND ( sharing everything from the number of farts to their location and clicking a selfie every hour) from the genuine ones who showcase restraint in sharing pictures ( especially with quality,quantity – marking an important milestone birth of a baby .i gues social media has changed the way we perceive things but one must always realise that the visual before you is a split second of their life and not the complete picture, for all you know a person travelling all over the world would be a depressed homeless guy or a drug dealer

  8. Is the title a tribute to Moti Nandi? If I remember right, “Yatrik” was the name of the club in “Striker.” Perhaps you’ll write one on sports to add to the too rare genre of sports novels…

  9. The married ones have it captioned: Dream car focusing on the four rings in every picture 🙂
    P.S. Can you please increase the font. It is readable but would be more comfortable if it was a tad bigger.

  10. In Manhattan the car that serves as the biggest “chic magnet” is an empty yellow cab between 11 pm Sat to 4 am sun …….

  11. ““Yaar cha gya tu” (You have made it big) and “Aish hi Aish” (Fun and more fun) and “Guruji Tussi Great Ho and perhaps the most obvious “Peeche ka seat ko gandha mat karna” (Don’t dirty the back seat) to which the reply had been a most practical “Leather hai”. (It’s leather).”

    You know, these comments, they are called “chaney kay jhad pay chadana” in Hindi.

    Anyhow, only most phoney ones will do this. It is OK to be happy and proud of your achievements and also your material wealth (first car, first house, first wife, first kid etc). Even if it is your first micro-wave as a student in USA, bought from assistantship money. We used to mail these pics to our parents. I have never, ever tried to post anything on FB or show it off. Truly these days the people back in India have more material wealth and better quality cell phones (and many such things) than us (in abroad). But I am happy that the gap is closing or closed. Makes me less uncomfortable.

  12. Noticed more than the usual number of pics of your daughter on your FB feed, at least the first few weeks……yes, you did attach a disclaimer that you’ve become “one of those dads.” Truth be told maybe I’ll do the same when the time comes.

    In other words, we all want to share our happiness with the world. Yes, some do it for the praises as well.

    Guilty of posting about my first car in the US – 97 Corolla. But had no illusions of grandeur of where it stood on the American car totem pole. Did mention that the Dodge Grand Caravan was a rental when posted that at the customary Niagara visit.

    I’m more critical of those desis who try to exploit cultural familiarity to waste your time on “a significant second source of income.” Of course you know what I’m talking of.

  13. Deconstruct the wannabe photographers too please. Every new youngster wants to prove they are the next wonder photographer with their newly purchased camera and big lens and a page called “xxxx photography” that floods inboxes of unsuspecting FB friends for a Like. They even go about clicking randomn flowers and birds and bees without a clue as to what they are shooting.

    Also the exotic vacation photos. I am certain just this category of images is raison d’etre for many divorce cases filed in the last 5 years..

    Already looking forward to the next in series…

  14. Pingback: Deconstructing Pictures Posted on Social Media Part 2 | Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind

  15. Lol! Nice one! BTW if the blokes next door didn’t have the A6, I too would have posted the picture of my Elantra 2014 😉

  16. Awesome ! This is so very true of social media & people’s attempt of showing the world ‘how perfect their lives are’ – and ofcourse, not only do they have the perfect life, they also brilliantly manage their time between ‘work’ & ‘life’, between ‘health’ and ‘sinful food’, between ‘friends’ & ‘family’, and so on and so forth…

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