I usually face a peculiar problem on social media sites. As usual I get friend requests at regular intervals. Sometimes the names are very unique like Bhavik Kodrani and Subimal Deb; in all such cases, I accept them without giving a second thought. But most of the time, the name is very common, like Alok Sharma. I am not sure which Alok Sharma is this — the friend, the rival or the enemy. This fellow has hidden his ‘friend list’ so there is no way to identify him by common friends. Perhaps this fellow is an old friend from my past who has been out of touch for a long time now and I would require several cues to recall his name and face. Or perhaps he is someone I have met recently e.g., in train journey, conference or shopping mall, and he wants to take our acquaintance to a higher level. Now the shortest and simplest way out — and the one which most of us use unconsciously — is to look for the person’s photo(s). Now this profile photo is the topic of my discussion today. You may consider it to be a trivial issue, but honestly, it is the cause of a lot of headache for me. In fact, I have arrived at the belief that it reveals a lot about our psychology.
First is the case where the user hasn’t put any profile photo. Note that such people do spend time looking at others’ photos but themselves want to remain hidden behind a veil. Perhaps they are afraid of devil’s eye casting an evil spell on their beautiful and charming face. Or they prefer to remain as a ghost. Or perhaps the exactly opposite is the case — perhaps they assign their beauty a very high value and certainly do not want to squander it on common people like us…ticket liya hai tune mujhe dekhane ka? Another category is made of people having a negative opinion of themselves e.g., ‘I am not good looking’, ‘I am not presentable’, ‘everybody else is posting such nice photos, and I don’t even know how to take selfies’, ‘or my camera resolution is so bad’, ‘who would want to look at me anyway?’ Of course, it is your decision whether you want to show your face or not, but it would have been much better had you done so. Not just would it make identifying you so much easier, it would make our conversation a bit more humane, giving it a personal dimension. Otherwise it seems as if I am talking out into a vacuum. But I am a bit more charitable than that, and I tend to give them a benefit of doubt. From my own personal experience, I have met people who are not comfortable with electronic devices and make the least possible changes in the default settings. This is specially true in the case of WhatsApp. With other internet-based applications, these people are simply scared that they might do something incorrectly and may not be able to rectify it. It is innocent unawareness and I do not blame them for that. There are others who are on social media with a purpose; they mix with very few people, and that too only to communicate. They spend very less time on social media, so it makes no sense to them to make so many elaborate changes to their profile when they know that they won’t be using it that often and for that long.
Another related idea is to put photo of flowers, cartoons, landscapes and so on. The essential idea is the same as the previous one — to not show one’s own face, and the reason could be any of those mentioned earlier and may be something else. The only difference from the previous case is that in the earlier case you were talking out into a vacuum whereas here you are talking to a wall. Much better.
Then there are a slightly different variant of the above sort. In this category lie people who put photos of their idols, role models and the like — earlier there were Shahrukh Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and Katrina Kaif; now there are Modi kaka, Sushma tai, Rahul baba, and such interesting people. The idea is simple — worship. And not just worship, they want to show to the whole world that they worship and also who they worship. These people have identified themselves with their role models, or rather their deities. This is much more serious than the previous cases. I am afraid but this is in a way eating them from inside. They have lost their own individuality and uniqueness, which is a sin not only to themselves, but to Nature/God (depending on your belief) which created them, to the family which raised them, to the school and teachers who groomed them, to the various friends and relatives who carry expectations from them. Your success and your failure does not belong to you only. You are an ‘assembled individual’, and all these people and institutions, who have contributed to your growth and development, have also given you a uniqueness. You may not be the prime minister, but you are unique in your own way. And the people around you love you, cherish you and feel proud of your little achievements. I don’t see any reason for you to give anyone else more importance than yourself — be it Modi kaka or Rahul baba or Mahesh Babu. There is psychological damage also. Once you identify yourself with any politician, player or actor, you give full control of your life into that person’s hand. In a way you have turned them into gods. If by any chance they lose their position — may be by getting involved in match fixing, corruption case or scandal, or criminal case — your illusion is shattered. And then comes heartbreak.
Then come those people who display their family/friend in their profile photo mostly to show how much they love their family. In a way it is the digital version of PDAL (public display of affection and love). This is funny. I receive a friend request from someone I haven’t met before. His profile photo shows him with a friend, with their hands around each other’s shoulders. Now which one is this?
Then come photos of parents. Whole life you have ignored them or abused them; but immediately after death, they reappear — on your profile photo. Sometimes I see it as another version of public display of love. Or as I just mentioned, a way to get around the guilty feeling that is otherwise eating their conscience away. Note that there could be certain occasions when putting photos of others as one’s own profile photo seems logical — be it of role models or family/friends or parents. For example, it is your favourite actor’s birthday, or the politician you support has won the election, or one of your parents has just passed away. But even in such cases, the particular profile photo is only temporarily put to celebrate/observe that occasion.
Finally the most dangerous of all — the practice of putting photos of children as one’s own profile photo. J Krishnamurti said, “We use children as pawns in the game of our conceit, and we pile up misery; we use them as another means of escape from ourselves (Commentaries on Living, Second Series).” Yes, like in the previous case, we identify ourselves with our children, and their success and failure become our own success and failure. Their achievements become an attestation of our upbringing. Whenever any child succeeds in any way, don’t people congratulate its parents and attribute it all to their hard work, effort, investments, and sacrifices? You may not have achieved anything in your own life, or perhaps your achievements were not according to your dreams and expectations. So you have plans to fulfil your remaining dreams through your child. This way that child is already killed, its innocence is already lost, it has never been taught to identify its own passions, interests and inclination. Because that would lead it astray from the path of your dreams. So many times we hear parents telling their children “We have so many expectations from you. Don’t let us down!” Why sir? “Your father had this dream that one day you will become a great doctor.” Why madam? “I always wanted to become a doctor, but because of financial constraints my father could not afford sending me to a medical college. Now my son, you have to fulfil my dream.” Why dad? However rosy picture you paint, actually this is another form of bonded labour. It is sheer exploitation — using someone’s entire life to achieve name and happiness for yourself. You have your own ambitions, and you have to fulfil them using resources at your disposal, your funds and finances, your strengths, talents and capabilities. A lot of things go into an achievement. If you achieve it, then very good. If you are not able to, then also OK. But game over. No further negotiations possible. Now a new match will start, with new players. It could also happen that your child indeed has similar dreams and ambitions like yours — either out of coincidence or more likely because of living in the same environment. Still in any case, they should not be influenced by your desires, dreams and unfulfilled ambitions.