Death by Selfie: Experiencing the No experience

(Disclaimer: This post is more about an experience and the thoughts it inspired. By no means am I dissing social media, I couldn’t live without it)

Just last week I experienced something extremely more blinding than the flashes of mobile phone cameras — dull humans! I fondly reminisce the pre-smartphone, Aerosmith concert in the summer of 2007, in Bangalore, when rock fans were eagerly waiting for Steven Tyler to step out and do his thing. The band arrived 3-hours late, but during the wait not once did the crowd stop singing the numerous hits from their albums. Even after the Emcee repeatedly kept showing up every 15 minutes reassuring it’d kick off in 10 minutes, the crowd remained enthusiastic and continued singing on the loop. Fast forward 9 years, New York City, although people await the ‘unnamed band’ to take the stage, not a single fuck was given during the waiting time, unless fucks accounted for fear of social isolation. All I saw were people around me checking in to the hall, talking selfies and videos and uploading it on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Those already ahead of the curve were trying to Periscope the pre-live event (WTF?). There I sat in my last row seat looking at the new dysfunctional society that I had become a part of. Never had I felt this embarrassed about humanity, and this, after considering terrorism, religion and unsolicited power.

The girl sitting beside found more gratification in recording a video on her iPhone (in spite of signs that prohibited it) than experiencing the concert herself. Every time the band began a new song, she did this (no exaggeration) — record the first 30 seconds, turn it to herself, make a weird/’cool’ face and then turn the camera back to the stage or wherever it amused her. Next she opened Snapchat and waited for the chorus to begin and recorded the next 10 seconds and added it to her story. As much as I wanted to ignore her mass anxiety of approval seeking and popularity tracking that seems far more suited to a high school prom than a high-functioning society, I couldn’t, simple because she wasn’t the only one.

Sharing our beautiful moments isn’t a bad thing. We should share those moments as a testimony to life and love. But the problem arises when we are only sharing those moments in anticipation of how it will be viewed, liked, and perhaps envied by others. We can’t blame a smart phone for that. This takes an internal examination of our conscience, and a willingness to question our purpose for our actions.

I understand that there has to be a balance between standing on the sidelines of our happy moments, and getting on the floor and engaging our social circles: cherishing the company of friends, the ambience of a concert hall and my personal favorite, basking in the glory of a good hair day. Yum-oh!

But there’s a balance. But don’t we all know that already? If we’re honest with ourselves, aren’t we aware of that balance, and where the scale tips for each of us?

Let me confess at the onset that I take selfies. For someone posting this article and sighing about the predicament of our generation, I’ve taken way too many myself to be embarrassed about, but none by shunning the experience of an occasion. As I sat, uninspired by bad musicians on stage and physically repulsed by the humans around me, I asked myself — When did we stop living in the present? When did we begin documenting it for the future without cherishing the now? I’m afraid one of the fewest memories we will take with us would be that of us looking into a phone screen trying to watch a live performance. It aches me to write this, but it’s true.

Midway through the concert, my friend turns to me and says “Akash, give me your phone I want a picture for Instagram.” I chuckled. That’s when I decided to write something about it when I returned home. It troubled me. We are deep enough into the social-media era to begin to recognize this. ABC in 2014 embraced the madness by picking up a comedy for the coming season called “Selfie,” about a woman in her 20s who is more concerned with her followers than her friends. Even the TV guys are cashing in on our disorders and approving our behavior by selling us more things in between run time. The extremity of social evolution has given rise to narcissistic bottlenecks in human psychological progress.

I’ve begun to re-strategize my image on social platforms. I’m going to enjoy more experiences and document only absolutely necessary parts of it, like in the past, before smart phone cameras and apps. I understand one or two pictures but almost the entire concert calls for social policing. Mind you, I’ve no problem with selfies. For a matter of fact I sent one this morning to my friends on Snapchat. But last week I witnessed the death of old school music concerts. One where we sang lyrics with the lead, danced to the tunes and drank some good ol’ wine/beer. It changed me.

The truth that our wisp of loneliness is soon replaced with a gust of self-satisfaction on social media by likes, retweets, screenshots, replays and comments, is frightening and quite frankly a social warning.

Bright flash phone lights left me enlightened.

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