Selfish selfies lack the human touch

The first time I travelled alone, I had been issued strict instructions by all at home: stay safe and get back lots of photos.

By Sushmita Bose

Published: Fri 19 Jun 2015, 11:38 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:50 PM

One of my fondest childhood memories is that of one where the whole family would be gathered together — at some place like the zoo or a birthday party on the terrace or my grandparents’ lovely bungalow in the burbs — and someone would take a photo of us. This someone would, more often than not, be someone unrelated to us: like the ice-cream vendor at the zoo or the caterer organising the birthday party spread or the gardener tending to the greens at my grandparents’. It would be one for the family album.

Then, there I was posing with friends in front of our school gate on graduation day. “Say cheese!” Standing on the bench in college, with mock horror writ large on my face. Smiling inanely into the camera on my first trip to Dubai, many, many moons ago, with the Deira Creek as the backdrop (of course, I was far more concerned the Creek should not steal my thunder and that I should come out looking much better). Just so many Kodak moments — I could go on and on and on. All captured by someone else… at times, even strangers.

The first time I travelled alone, I had been issued strict instructions by all at home: stay safe and get back lots of photos… That was the tricky part. I could click landscapes and monuments, but how would I get someone to click me in ‘alien’ territory? Turned out to be a breeze. Almost everywhere, I would look imploringly at perfect strangers and ask them if they’d mind “taking a picture”? They were all happy to help, and I would be profuse with my thanksgiving. In those days of the analog camera, there was no way of ascertaining picture quality, but there was a thrill in the wait for the film roll to get processed; the final revelation was like a movie climax (if the photos of the self turned out good, I would once again thank whoever had done the honours — this time, silently).

A few days ago, I was at brunch with a group of friends, and we decided to get a group shot. “Let’s call the waiter,” I said excitedly and loudly. So loudly that our waiter picked up on my voice note and promptly arrived at the table. “Allow me,” he offered graciously, holding his hand out to take my friend’s smartphone (that had been primed for the photo-call).

“No need,” my friend replied. “We’ll take a selfie.” And we did (actually, a group selfie is called a groufie, but it sounds unceremoniously bad). We had the freedom to wear whatever expression we wanted, bob our heads up and down till they found the perfect resting place in the frame, fix our hair, apply a new coat of lipstick (the other one wasn’t looking half as good in the “current” light) and not bother about the ‘other person’ being kept on hold — but I felt rather sad at the end of it. Selfies have made us self-sufficient, but this is yet another form of human contact we are cropping out of the picture.

The day after brunch, a dear friend, who was in Dubai for a day, dropped by at home. While seeing her off outside my building, we both realised we hadn’t taken a photo of us together. In the now.

“Let’s take a selfie,” she said, drawing out her phone from her handbag.

“You know what? Let’s not take a selfie. Let’s do it the conventional way.”

There was a delivery boy coming out of my building lobby; I asked him if he’d mind taking a shot. He looked surprised, but agreed readily enough and seemed to have fun playing cameraman. “A little forward… no, no, not so much… now, a little to the left… Smile!”
And so it was.

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