Personal online photos: Why is it bad to compile an online obituary?


[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t the end of last month, The Guardian posted an article by Rana Dasgupta titled “Posting photos online is not living. You are producing your own obituary.” The article begins by making large sweeping statements about tourists taking pictures and using them as “material for a personal online story” in lieu of truly immersing themselves in their travel experiences.

This opening sets the stage for the rest of the article, which can be best described as a rather incoherent attempt by Dasgupta to sound profound and edgy, while actually coming off as supercilious, assumptive, and poorly thought out. The main downfall of his argument is that it considers social ‘media-ized’ experiences and actual experiences to be mutually exclusive — which has about as much of a logical following as Scientology.

Cynical criticisms of technologies are hardly new; even Plato once quoted Socrates saying that writing “will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.” Older generations and Luddites have likely been skeptical of the new innovations used by younger people since the invention of the wheel. This is why I cringe a little every time I see yet another article added to the already superfluous amount criticising people for using modern technology.

Even if their criticisms are true in some ways, these technologies catch on because their cost-benefit is worth it. Condemning people for using them is being overly judgemental.

Dasgupta tries to sound profound and edgy, while actually coming off as supercilious, assumptive, and poorly thought out.

Despite the article’s title, I’m still not quite sure how Dasgupta reckons that our social media accounts eventually being used for obituaries is bad; personally, I’m fine with my friends and family having an easier time finding my pictures and listed life experiences after I’m gone, as opposed to having to scavenge to find such documents like previous generations may have. Most technology is made for the purpose of making life easier, and this is another instance of it doing exactly that.

Dasgupta claims that the things people post on social media “become significant only at the moment of death,” which only takes a quick glance at Facebook’s recent “On This Day” feature to refute; people look back at their old posts to reminisce all the time. The article really doesn’t provide any substantiation for this statement at all. I can only assume that he included it to show off his prophetic powers, foretelling the destiny of content submitted by people who use social media in a way he doesn’t approve of.

Both my favourite and least favourite statement in the article is, “In an era when people still believed in their own lives, they wrote autobiographies. We, by contrast, have become auto-obituarists.” First of all, plenty of people still write autobiographies. I’m not quite sure when this supposed era of people believing in their own lives ended, but I, for one, certainly don’t think of myself as fictitious. Also, autobiographies and obituaries aren’t exactly contrasting concepts, so I’m a little perplexed over what point Dasgupta is trying to get across here.

Overall, this article feeds into an already existing notion of media-use shaming. Sure, perhaps some people could greatly benefit from taking time off from social media to smell the ‘IRL’ roses; but that’s hardly something you can assume from noticing someone snap a few photos. It’s also entirely their prerogative, and they don’t deserve to be condescendingly judged for it.