Footloose and Fancy Free

The society we live in today levies an inexorable tax on all of its members and one that must be paid instantly following the consummation of any social activity. It is a transaction tax of sorts where anytime one partakes in an activity they must put a portion of their life out for the rest of the society to scrutinize and then pass judgement on. The payment of the said tax is essentially a semi-voluntary relinquishing of a bit of ones privacy. The bigger and grander the activity the heftier the tax burden.

I know I know, I’m trying hard to be the textbook definition of an obscurantist. So let me elucidate.

Social Activity can be anything ranging from partaking in a marriage to celebrating  a birth, a birthday, a major anniversary, a graduation, taking a vacation, a road trip, a walk in the woods, enjoying a night out with friends, a music concert, a meal at a restaurant, attending a sporting event and of course I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to the newest yet market leading entrant into the social activity category; the art of the selfie.

The tax I alluded to earlier is the weight of the society on you to chronicle in pictorial form the activity itself and then share with the world (Just friends, friends of friends or the Public!) via the social media gateways available to you. Well, it’s not that simple though. Just clicking yourself and your loved ones in the act isn’t enough. It has to look grand and different. So what does one do? One tries to find more exotic locales for the vacations, tries and celebrates the momentous occasions in a more lavish manner than one normally would, eats out more to be able to capture more of the gastronmic adventures, goes to the gym or starves oneself to either tone up or slim down, buys trendier clothes and accessories and even in many cases upgrades to a swankier ride. Believe it or not, all of these just to make that explosive impression on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It is one-upmanship at its best or worst; depends on your perspective.

I’ve to put the disclaimer out before I proceed any further that I’m a law-abiding social taxpayer. I must admit the pressure of paying this new tax has me watching my step and constantly thinking about the optics of the activity that actually living the moment. In my case though the poison is not pictures but prose!

I’m sure its no different for a lot of us. This interminable pressure to be unfailingly ‘on point’, pressure to constantly aim the smartphone to capture the next ‘money shot’ of that popular celebrity that you saw at the airport, that mesmerizing vista, that awe-inspiring natural or manmade wonder, the bustling cityscape We are akin to a gaggle of paparazzos with smartphones trying to outwit each other in pursuit of that perfect snap. The only difference being paparazzos don’t have themselves as the primary subject in their shots!

The result of this is a new variant of the long existing medical condition they call obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) which conditions our reflexes to whip our smartphones out anytime anything remotely striking makes an appearance before us. The sad eventuality is that we are now constantly looking at the many-splendored riches of our beautiful planet and its glorious inhabitants through the lens of an inanimate and ‘artificially intelligent’ smartphone. We are busy concentrating on how best to capture that moment rather than living the moment. Little do we realize that we have gone through a day of vacation and the only things that have kept us engrossed are trying to capture us and our surroundings in the various ways possible followed by the editing the photos (read the cutting and polishing of the raw diamonds that we have mined) using the various photo editing apps on our smartphones  followed by the posting of the pictures on the social media platforms and that of course with the cheesiest and cutesiest of  footnotes. All of this work to make the most dramatic impression on our virtual friends and seek their appreciation. We are no longer on vacation, we are working to please and working overtime at that!

We are emotionally so tethered to this notion of keeping up with the Joneses or at the very least keeping up the projection of it in the virtual world that we ironically forgo a huge chunk of the real world experiences which form the very basis of those pictures. Now don’t get me wrong here, recording history for posterity is worthy of commendation but then again the intent behind and the scale of this maniacal accumulation and subsequent curation simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

Many theories abound around the genesis of this pandemic. Most have laid the blame squarely at the feet of the internet giants like Google and Facebook for re-introducing modern day slavery by use of what they call the evil ‘Rewards’ system. The Rewards system is nothing but a behavioral conditioning system which uses a reward to ensnare its target into modifying their behavior. Simply put this Reward system preys on our basic human instinct of instant gratification. The likes, comments, emails, even the anticipation of online shopping deliveries all are rewards that gratify us and drive us to click more pictures, painstakingly select and post the very best pictures , spend more money, tweet All of this of course, to get that rush of dopamine (same chemical released when we have sex or enjoy our favorite food). And yes, all of this is at our disposal on demand and at our fingertips!!

I for one want to wrestle my way out of this stubborn compulsion of ‘needing’ to check my smartphone every few minutes (every few seconds is the actual cadence!) or wanting to put something out on social media to elicit a response to get my fix of dopamine.

That said, the stark irony of it is that I’ll post this blog within the next few minutes and then proceed to check my phone for likes and comments every few minutes. Every  will be a dopamine shot and I simply can’t get enough of that good stuff.

Alas! Footloose and Fancy Free are mere relics of a past age which I can only reminisce and romanticize about.