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

Man and Machine

On 22 August our land line phone (yes, we are perhaps the few remaining dinosaurs who still have a land line!) went dead. My husband in whose name the number is registered, called the complaints number and after being taken through the usual route of Press 1 for___and Press 2 for ___ , and so on finally made contact with a human voice to register the complaint.  He was told that someone would come to our home the same day by midday. In the meanwhile, I received at least four automatic messages on my cell phone (not in any way connected with the landline provider, with various offers and deals.) My husband has innumerable times told the landline providers that he should be contacted on the landline number only. But that is another story!

Back to this story! We waited at the stipulated time, and well beyond, for the person to show up. Towards evening we got a call (on the landline, at least!) from the engineer to say that he would be arriving shortly. When he finally did arrive and we told him that he was to have come at least 6 hours ago, he said that he had got the message about his call, just an hour ago. The gentleman, (one from the not-quite-all-tech generation) himself expressed anguish at how the mechanised ‘auto-response call systems’ were so out of synch with the human work force that was meant to execute the work.

During the same period that he was at our place I received three messages on my cell phone saying that “Your service request has been assigned to engineer _______. He will be visiting at your premises between 23 August 2018  09.30 am-23 August 2018 10.30 am.”

By the time the many messages were received, the engineer had solved the issue. Now he had to report to the ‘authorities’ that the task had been successfully completed. This too through the automated number system. However, try as he might, his completion report was not registered. The engineer tried patiently for over half an hour, through whatever means he knew to simply report  ‘task completed on 22 August’, to no avail.  He was quite at his wits’ end, and finally left befuddled, (and worried about how to account for the visit and the task).

On 23 August at precisely 09.40 am, I received three messages on my cell phone confidently informing me that “Dear Customer. Our engineer ________just arrived at your premises to attend to your service request.” !?!

–Mamata