“The life that you live in order to photograph it is already, at the outset, a commemoration of itself.”
-Italo Calvino, Difficult Loves
First Snap stories, then Instagram stories, followed by WhatsApp statuses; and now Messenger Day seems to be the newest kid on the block. With the most frequently used social media platforms doing the 24-hour story game right, it seems like it won’t be long before our social media experience will be engulfed by the anxiety of posting, checking who viewed the posts and viewing others’ posts.
You go to have pizza with friends, one of whom has to leave in 30 minutes. You are all killing time until the pizza arrives. In those 10 minutes, one of you takes her phone out and starts clicking pictures/shooting Boomerangs while you don’t notice them doing it. You start doing the same. The others do the same. This is how all your other friends get to know within seconds that you all are hanging out to have pizza.
Each of you upload stories on Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. Considering an average of 2 minutes spent on each application, you spend a total of 8 minutes in posting stories if you do not want to be the one whose stories deliver nothing new to followers. By the one who reluctantly started sharing stories 2 minutes after the others did, completes the business, the pizza is here.
Once the pizza is served, each one posts a story of it. These were pictures of the entire pizza, mind you. You also have to post a picture of after your slice is on your plate. Assuming this process took you 4 minutes in all, the friend who’s got to leave in 30 minutes has 16 minutes in hand. She starts eating her food. Before you realise, she has to leave but before she leaves, “let me click a selfie”.
In the entire time spent with friends, when did you stop to talk to each other?
You discussed about how the pizza tastes, which place offers better pizza and when you last ate at this particular eatery. Did you discuss how your heart ached at three this morning for a moment that will never return? Did you recall memories of the time you first met each other?
Photographs, which are meant to be souvenirs of experiences one has already had, have now become a means to actualize the experience. This is something Susan Sontag had foreseen long before the dystopia we are living in had been materialised.
You live in an economy that runs on envy.
If the picture of the delectable pizza posted by your friend did not water your mouth, you would not go to that eatery the next weekend itself. If you did not envy the quality of pictures your friend posts with an iPhone, you would not have bought an iPhone. If you did not envy the car your neighbour drives, you would not have bought your second car.
The culture of consumption that willingly or unwillingly we are a part of, demands that we struggle for a better pizza, phone, car. It demands that we make our lives look worth envy with post-processed photographs. It may increase the illusory aesthetic quotient of our daily experience, but it is certain to create an experience of reality as we desire it to be.
Why post stories?
Why post stories when you can actually make posts that stay permanently on your Facebook or Instagram wall? The answer is nothing you have not known till date. Stories let you post many times without actually spamming anyone. They let you post stuff that you would not want to keep on your timeline either because they are not aesthetically very pleasing or because they capture in essence the transience of the moments you want to show to the world.
However, the most important reason for posting stories is to capture moments that you know won’t last long. You are living a moment which your followers are not.
This is a subversion of the very idea of photography and videography because instead of capturing moments so that they last for a long time, one now captures moments simply to share them with the rest of the world for a short period. This moment in history is one of self-reflection – it reveals that we lose the moment in the attempt to immortalise it. It reminds us of the transience of life itself and questions if one really document a life story in public moment through social media stories. It makes Emily Dickinson all the more relevant: