I boarded the train from Houma, Shanxi Province, China to go to Shijiazhuang, in Hebei Province, China at 2:49 PM. The coach in the train is a six seater per row, with 3 seats on both side and an aisle in the middle. However, my seat was in Row 1, with 2 seats on either side of the aisle as that row is close to the door. So, after the effort of getting to the right platform, my coach and locating my seat, I settled in. As the only language of communication is Mandarin-Chinese, so for me without knowledge of that language, it was quite challenging to make it to my seat. I opened the book I was carrying and started reading it. Soon, a gentleman came who was assigned the seat next to me. After he settled down, suddenly a flurry of activity started next to me. So, I lifted my gaze from the book to check what was going on. I noticed that he had whipped out his cell phone out of his pocket and was preparing to take a selfie picture of himself on the phone camera. But the interesting part of it was that he was struggling trying to capture me also in the frame.
When my eyes met his eyes, by hand action he tried to ask sheepishly if it was OK to take picture of me with him. I was amused that I was becoming a minor celebrity because of my turban. I laughed and nodded my head and then added RMB 500. Meaning that it is OK to take picture but it was going to cost him. Saying that I started laughing again, and he joined in the laughter when he realized that I was just joking. With the selfie session over, I returned back to my book as no additional communication was possible because of language barrier.
Shortly about one and a half hour later, I got up from my seat to go to the restroom (toilet) which was on the other end of the coach. In the process of going and returning back, I noticed that everyone in the coach was occupied with their own cell phones or IPads. Most were engaged in watching pictures, TV shows, movies and some other content or busy texting. The only exception that I noticed were few women who had nursing babies in their arms. Right next to the restroom was a designated area for baggage stowage, I noticed a young girl sitting there on the floor. I was wondering why she was sitting on the hard metal floor there, leaving behind the comfort of the cushioned seat. My curiosity was answered when I noticed that she was trying to charge her cell phone with an electric outlet provided there. At the same time she was watching some show on her device. On returning to my seat I noticed another woman standing behind my seat. I was again wondering about the reason that brought her there, when I saw that she was charging her phone on the wall electric outlet. Then I realized that there were two outlets at either end of the coach, and as the one near the luggage area was in use she had to come here. Soon, she returned to her seat but the stream of visitors to charge the phones continued unabated.
Another hour passed and now my co-passenger again took out his cell phone and took some more pictures with me and he got busy sending the pictures with some text messages. I was wondering that I have 2 cell phones (one for USA and other for China) in my pocket, so should I also capture this spectacle on my phone camera? Instead, I decided not to bother with taking pictures on my phones. But, the flood of thoughts that how this tiny pocket sized cell phone; which did not even exist twenty years back, has taken over our lives mesmerized me. Well it has taken over our lives, because we as humans have this tendency to seek recognition and this tiny pocket sized device delivers that “our significance to the rest” with just pressing the “Send” button. The thoughts that how self-absorbed we are, and how we broadcast and convey our significance to the world were inundating my mind. The picture of self is called Selfie and tools to take pictures are named IPad and IPhone. Do the names of these devices and the act of taking picture of the self, reveals the human nature? Yes it does! It is in the names of the devices and in the act of using them.
The fact that we humans are so self-absorbed is a true universal trait, that is not confined by any geographical boundaries and we want the rest of the world to know that. But then, why am I having these thoughts at present, on this train, and in this country? Have I not seen in the past, selfies being taken, pictures and videos being taken on the cell phones? Then, why am I having a heightened awareness about this vanity and obsession now? Well! Because I am travelling in this new place first time, where the systems, procedures, signs, culture or language are not familiar to me. The result is that I am operating with a heightened awareness. In addition, in such a small area of a train coach; I have seen that almost everyone is under the spell and grip of this pocket device. I have seen the device being used to capture moments in the past; but the sheer size and density of its usage displayed its sway, crossing the geographical and cultural boundaries. Today, the fact is we feel incomplete without our cellphone and our Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts.
We have become consumed by text, tweets, images and emails on our phone and now wrist watches are joining them. Our eyes are glued to the screens even while we are having personal interaction with someone else. Those who are not plugged in to this race are considered as relics of the Stone Age. If I have not shared my latest travel or vacation pictures, pictures of the parties that I have been to, the new jewelry and the new dress that I have purchased with the world, then the world is deprived of a significant world event. Interestingly it has even become indispensable tool for grocery shopping, so deep is its reach. Well to confirm this fact next time we are in a grocery store we can watch for ourselves how many people are making use of it.
The word Selfie entered the Oxford Dictionary only in 2013, but its grip on the world preceded its entry in the dictionary. Before going further I would like to share the definition of the selfie from the dictionary. It is defined as an image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks. In fact; TV network channel ABC had a TV show in 2014 titled Selfie. To me, that even a TV show owes its origin to this phenomenon is a salute to the significance that it has mustered in its short existence. The thoughts about the cultural shift that just the Selfie has brought about, is beyond our understanding at present and its reverberations will only be analyzed in years to come by the experts. Even now, although it has been embraced and has been accepted by the society in general, but still it is derided by others as a symptom of social media-driven narcissism. As, I was drowning in these thoughts about the cultural shift that Selfie has brought I said to myself; “Watch where are you drowning yourself?” In the name of Selfie, in the currents of thoughts on Selfie!
I looked out of the train window and saw that the Sun was slowing going down into the horizon. The thought; that the significance of Selfie has really made a tremendous shine on my mind like the sunshine, and that now is the time for it to sink; and be swallowed by the horizon came to me. So, how can it go down? Well it is not so easy to calm a storm in the mind. Every time I tried to do it, something would appear in front of my eyes that could be related to Selfies stirring fresh storms. Bang! Here I go again.
In this Selfie culture where “I” permeates, we have forgotten “You”. Both, the you the one in front of us and You, the Higher You! The Power! Everywhere we look with an eye for, what is there for me. What have you done for me today is the new mantra. Have we not become slaves of this narcissist obsessions? Soon, my station arrived and I got down from the train. I came out of the station took a car ride and checked into a hotel.
After settling in I went to a restaurant to have my dinner. I ordered my food and I was eating alone at my table. Soon, another gentleman walked in and he was seated on the table next to me. He opted for a buffet dinner and filled his plate with food. After filling his plate he returned to the table and put the food plate down. He whipped out his cellphone out of his pocket and took picture of his food. Then he texted those pictures before he started eating. Although this is not a Selfie in true sense of the word, still it is a manifestation of Selfie culture as the food is for the self. So, for us even the food that we are eating has become an exhibit for the world. How will this Selfie transform the world that we know now? Wait and see.