All things come to a beginning

Monday, February 26, 2007

We and I

I'm taking French this term - and working hard at it. I feel the language slowly coming back to me after having been neglected for so long, and I'm letting it pour into my head through all possible media. Edith Piaf albums, the French news (the élections présidentielles take place in April, so there's plenty of men bitching to each other about things that are "pas possible!" and "tout à fait ridicule". They don't get into it the way the Italians do, but the odd throbbing vein is entertaining enough) and French magazines. In last week's "Vif/L'Express" there is an article on, a website "explores human emotion" by measuring the general mood of the blogosphere. It's amazing - I urge you to check it out. You can select the age of the blogger, their location, what the weather was like at that location when they posted, how they felt when they posted or a combination of all of these variables and after a few seconds you get a list of international - English spoken - blog excerpts.

My initial sense of awe at what the creators of this site set up was quickly replaced by a dull, uncomfortable feeling. Maybe it's all the marketing courses I'm taking this term, but it is pretty depressing to watch how the feelings and statements and cries for help from millions of people have been poured into a system and classified. As much as people strive for normalcy, being categorized in such an obvious way is a rude wake-up call. Any feeling you've ever had, there's a few million people out there who have been there before. Any age you have, you're part of a specific demographic with its own marketing campaign. Any country you've been, there's a couple hundred associations for people who've traveled to those exact places.
I get the same sense of claustrophobia on Facebook. Sure it's fun to find people online who are into the same things as you, be it a language, a band or a club. And few people are members of the exact same groups, everyone picks and chooses and combines to their preference. But is that who we are? Are these the building blocks to our own individual identity, a group DNA?

I've been working on a photography project & as part of my research I've been clicking around Again, there is something depressing about knowing millions of other people are into photography, and just like you, take semi-artsy shots of streets and hills and their friends. But I like browsing this site. Maybe it's the lack of words, but it seems less of a people barrel. People post their pictures not necessarily to be seen and judged and approved of and accepted, making it a place with less social control and more oxygen. The flickr homepage has a list of the most popular tags. It's alphabetic, but I've reorganized them (Is that ironic in a post about classification? Ainsi soit-il.)

Times: '06, August, autumn, birthday, Christmas, day, December, Fall, Halloween, holiday, honeymoon, July, June, night, road trip, Spring, Summer, trip, vacation, wedding, Winter
Places: Africa, Amsterdam, Australia, Barcelona, Berlin, Boston, California, Canada, Chicago, China, church, city, England, Europe, Florida, France, Germany, Hawaii, home, Hongkong, house, India, Ireland, island, Italy, Japan, London, Los Angeles, Mexico, museum, New York, New Zealand, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Scotland, Seattle, Spain, street, Sydney, Taiwan, Texas, Thailand, Tokyo, Toronto, UK, USA, Vancouver, Washington, zoo
Animals: Animals, cats, dog
Colours: Black, black&white, blue, colours, green, red, white, yellow
Things you do: Camping, hiking, travel
Things you're into: Architecture, art, graffiti
Things you have: Cameraphone, Canon, Car, food, Nikon D50
People: Baby, family, friends, girl, kids, me, people, portrait
Nature: Beach, clouds, flower, garden, lake, landscape, light, live, mountains, nature, ocean, park, river, rock, sea, sky, snow, sun, sunset, trees, water
Events: Concert, festival, film, party, show
Qualities: fun, geotagged, live, macro, new, urban

With the possible exception of "geotagged" (what?), this is one of the happiest lists of words I have read in my life. Every word makes me think "I've been there and it was awesome!", "I totally want to go there!", "I love that!" or "Those are the best!". Why does the blog site fill me with queasiness, while this list makes me all mushy inside? Is it simply because the photographers let their images speak for themselves instead of spewing out words and longwinded explanations about the hows and the whys of their life? Is it because people tend to take pictures when they're happy and relaxed, and write when they are confused and stuck? I honestly don't know.


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