The post-modern way: seeing the world through tinted glasses

Across the world, more of us are travelling than ever before. Yet, holidays are only enjoyed in retrospect. I have just returned from New York, a place of unexpected pleasures and constant surprises – but most tourists were happy to see it either through the lens of a camera or the cell phone. If you asked them what they enjoyed most about the city that never sleeps, they would have to check their pictures to tell you.

And the pictures are taken with machine-gun rapidity. Thus you get a dozen shots of a cousin or aunt looking mournfully at a fountain in the city square – each exactly like the other except in some tiny way which is not apparent to the naked eye. In fact, the naked eye itself is seldom apparent, covered as it invariably is with a camera lens of some description.

It begins at the airport where I saw – and I kid you not – a couple of people taking pictures of the board that announces the flight details. Amateur photographers, like professional wolves, move in packs – and imitate everything the other chap does. Let someone take a picture in front of the airport toilets, and you will find every member of his group taking individual pictures and then gathering together for a group photograph taken by someone with a kind heart and poor footwork who was unable to get away in time.

Selfies are one thing. Then there are the ‘otheries’, where a random stranger has a phone thrust at him with a request to click a photograph of a group looking wistfully at a parked vehicle or a McDonald’s outlet.

The idea seems to be not so much to enjoy a holiday as to stick it in the faces of friends, neighbours and relatives back home.

“See how important I am – I can get away for a holiday; and one which involves airport announcements, toilets and that fabulous building dedicated to that guy with the moustache,” they seem to say. “But did you see Hudson River?” you ask in some exasperation, and receive the immortal response, “Who’s that?”

Saints, non-government organisations and holiday-makers live their lives for other people. Enjoy the moment, said the philosopher. No, thanks, says the holiday-maker, I’ll record the moment and enjoy it at my leisure when I return home. He is the Oliver Twist of the modern world, forever asking with his camera hand outstretched, “Please sir, can I have some more?”

There is no data to back this, but I think the huge number of cell phones sold has led to an increase in the number of per capita holidays in the world. What is the fun of having a such-and-such mega pixel with a so-and-so zoom if you can’t take holiday pictures? Taking selfies with unprotesting historical monuments is the most fun some people have in their lives.

Anyway, I am back from my holiday and if anyone wants to see the pictures, do get in touch…

Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 5:55:09 AM |

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