Two Sides of the Mirror

Time was, not so long ago, when photo albums were treasured family heirlooms.  Looking at old photos was one of the shared activities at a family get-together, with the elders pleasurably sinking into nostalgia, and youngsters playing guessing games at identifying the people in the pictures. There was a special excitement in flipping through the pages and sharing a laugh at “how much hair dear uncle had”, as compared with his bald pate today; or comparing the picture of the slim young girl with the comfortably chubby aunt today!

Photographs recorded the phases of life—the baby pictures taken by fond parents to record milestones; the awkward and self-conscious pictures of the gawky teenage years; the fancy wedding photo album; and the next cycle of young parents, their babies and doting grandparents.

There was a certain charm in seeing these transitions through the captured images. There was also a certain ceremony attached to the process of documenting. In the early years, this took the form of special posed pictures taken by professional photographers. With cameras becoming more user-friendly and available, it brought the process closer to home, but there was still the waiting period between the giving of the film for developing and getting back the prints and the negatives to discover what they revealed! Over time the technology and format of film, cameras and processing changed. The Polaroid camera was magic in a box—click, and voila the photo appears. …And then came the mobile phones with the ease of capturing images in an instant; along with all the many many Apps to do what you wish with the image. And everyone went crazy…every second of every day to be not only recorded, but immediately shared. Followed by the anxiety of how many views and how many likes. A deluge of images, sweeping across the screen of life, fleeting, momentary and, alas not as magical as turning the pages of an album to peruse history.

And now the new rage—FaceApp! The wand that reveals what you will look like when you are OLD! Celebrities across the world are posting pictures of what technology turns them into, projecting into the future. Of course every one of them looks suitably dignified and gracefully old, and feels reassured that “I am going to age well.”

Even more thought provoking is the news that this may also be used for not-as-legit facial recognition purposes. This makes me wonder. One the one hand, for millions of millennials, self-esteem and self- image hinge on being, at all times, visible on social media and “liked”. Then how can this be selective?

I am totally flummoxed by this. Here is a generation of self-obsessed young people living in an age where Image matters most. Here are the celebrities who spend millions on “looking young”. Here are the people who believe that life is in the here and now. Here is the technology which allows you to Photoshop away every trace of wrinkle or sagging skin, every blemish or hint of the passage of time. And yet these same people are clambering on the new high of “looking old.” Sadly, if only they stopped to think, life is more complex than an App, and who can tell what traces the ravages of time and experience will leave on our visage.

As for me, I would rather browse through the passage of time from my photo albums, than fast forward to the future!

–Mamata