Who *Is* That Guy?!

I’ve recently acquired a new phone—after almost six years. I was going for budget, security, speed, RAM, etc. The camera wasn’t one of my priorities. But you know what phones are for, right? Yes, taking pictures.

Here’s the problem: in the last six years, the picture-taking tech in smartphones has … evolved. So evolved that when I took the first selfie with this new phone, I was shocked!

“Who IS this guy?!” I recoiled at the fakeness. What is with filters in the default mode? Smooth, unblemished skin; fresh, inviting complexion; bright eyes that speak … oh come on! That’s not me! My dark circles can literally block out the sun! You’ve even airbrushed off my beauty spots like they’re some unnatural anomalies. They’re called “beauty” for a reason, for crying out loud!

I think my shock was greater because I didn’t know how far this “autocorrect” had advanced. It was an unimaginably huge leap for me, and not even in a direction I liked. And how would I even know? For two years now, I’ve been taking people’s display pics at their face value (pun unintended). And now, after this “digital botox” fiasco, I wonder: Do I really know what they look like? Will I recognize them if I meet them with their filters down?

Some people on my friends list clearly overdo the filters. They exude this luminescent amber glow from their faces like they’ve been recently promoted from human to angel; like they’re hiding their halos behind their backs out of modesty. The “complexion corrector” is laid so heavy on their skin, their edges so blurred that you’ll think they’re phasing in and out of reality. Is that really the colleague you haven’t seen in two years? Is that the cousin who’s much elder to you? The profile name says uncle Donald, but that looks like an alien is wearing uncle Donald’s skin! Uff! My memory must be failing me.

But maybe it is technology that is failing us—exploiting our vanity for no apparent good. I don’t know who’s benefiting from this casual narcissism. I don’t think people really believe that they’ve somehow become prettier because that’s how they look in a picture. Yes, there is some self-therapy there, like taking deep breaths to calm yourself down. But for sure this is for public consumption. Without literally saying it, it is literally saying, “Oh, look, how pretty I look!” (Not how pretty I am—that would be blatant lying. But isn’t this too, though?)

But I think there is a bigger, greater project here—influencing the future. We’ll all grow old and decrepit and die quietly (if we’re lucky). But these “hagioautobiographical” selfies get irrevocably pasted on the pages of history. Without any evidence to the contrary, we will forever remain dazzling and alluring for future historians and casual browsers alike.

This Peter Pan syndrome, is it any different from our compulsion to procreate? The vain urge to leave behind an unending series of little facsimiles of ourselves? Our best shot at immortality? These algorithm-based, artificial intelligence-enabled, heavily airbrushed photographs are like our descendants that we’ll live through even after we’re dead.

Now, that kind of immortality is something I have no interest in. It is creepy. But my greater concern is that I want to be able to recognize people when I meet them in person. I’m already bad with names, I don’t want to be chastised about faces too. And I especially don’t want to give my old friends the pleasure of poking fun at me: “What the #uck happened to your face?!”

Published by Anupam Choudhury

I'm a writer, editor, and blogger from New Delhi, India.

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