Notes on being a Digital Stranger

by ericaeller

Sometimes I feel like an outsider in the digital world. For example, I rarely take selfies. One of the reasons is that when I reach to take a photo, my phone battery usually dies. This happened just this morning. I thought it would be interesting to take a selfie of me just out of the shower, because my hair was starting to form the spiral curls that make it distinct. I wanted to capture this magical moment on camera. Just as I turned on my phone camera and saw my own wet hair and blotchy face through the lens, the screen went blank. I sincerely doubt that any profound or even mundane significance was lost with this missed opportunity.

I’m lazy about charging my phone and since its an Iphone 4 the pictures turn out grainy. I also think that all of my photos need to be photoshopped, but they never turn out right. My pale skin makes the contrast function turn me into a ghost and my pink undertones makes any other function turn me into a devil. This is compounded by the fact that my pale blue eyes turn into red lasers if the flash setting is on. My idea of the selfie is that it should capture a certain attitude. I feel silly capturing a mood featuring myself on camera. My mood is often a mystery to me, so the photos turn out similarly indecisive. This ambiguity doesn’t translate well in a world ruled by marketing tactics of users instant identification with a style, concept, brand, etc. I cannot really be marketed except as a ‘nobody.’ As a nobody, I feel very comfortable; you could say “content” even. The best way to capture this mood is by not taking selfies. I don’t deny the fact that I enjoy looking at other people’s photos, but mostly as an outsider. I think: how interestingly unfamiliar.

There is a word for people like me in Turkish. It is “yabancı” pronounced “yah-bahn-juh” (more or less) and it is applied to any foreigner who comes to Turkey, marked by their different looks and their inability to speak Turkish. When the Turks say this word, it also gives you a sense that you are not just innocently “outside” of their world, but criminally so. You feel like an intruder, especially in this current era power-shifts. This is also how I feel in the digital age. I intrude on the social media and blogosphere worlds as an inept and external interloper. The feeling is heightened now that I am living in Istanbul.

One of the most scenic cities of the world, Istanbul is boldly photogenic. It remains so, in spite of efforts by developers to eradicate all plant-life and areas designated as “green” spaces. The contemporary preference is for stone and concrete, which still hasn’t dismantled the charm of the many street cats that lace every ancient architectural wonder. Or the vibrant colors of hanging laundry with the backdrop of the Bosphorus. Or faded the sunset skyline of the Golden Horn with its striking silhouettes of minarets and domes that outline each mosque. I love the look and the feel of the city both surrounding me and with its contours under my feet. However, I have no means of expressing my delight on camera, since first of all, I feel burdened by the extra luggage of a photo-taking device. It is not its weight or size, which is minimal, but the interruption each photo makes and the alternate perspective it demands of my consciousness. I not only have to be ready to take a photo at any moment, but I also have to look for things that I should photograph. Otherwise, I come up blank.

My Instagram ineptitude is a result of coming up blank. I have an account, but as I mentioned I don’t have a good phone camera. What exacerbates this problem more is my apathy towards buying a new phone. This is a result of my resistance to the constant flood of new models marketed to consumers. The rate of change is faster than my ability to digest the possibilities that each new model presents. I am not a digital warrior, but a digital meddler, as I said. Furthermore, my camera broke. It was kind of an accident, because the final blow was when I accidentally dropped it out of my pocket, but it also kind of wasn’t. I had gone for months with the device being tossed around in my purse, bombarded by books, keys, and other conflicting gadgetry. After being tousled, poked and prodded, it was gradually losing its luster. Its lens was scratched because the lens cover stopped closing all of the way. When I dropped it, it felt like shooting a wounded horse. Somethings are beyond repair.

This decadent feeling is how I would describe my attitude towards photo-taking in social media. I occasionally breathe the fresh air of inspiration and take a sudden outburst of photos and then post them online, but I usually regret it later. The inner critic sets in and the photos start to give me proof of my insignificance in the scheme of things. Then I realize that this feeling of being “nobody” actually is better represented by a lack of photos, rather than a sudden outburst of them. Along with Melville’s esteemed anti-hero, Bartleby, I concur: “I would prefer not to.”