Throughout current culture in America, and arguably all over the world, communication is constantly evolving, and so are the mediums we all choose to express ourselves. Instead of walking up to each other and establishing a connection, or explaining to each other why we like the things we do, we just read it, maybe in the 140 characters of a tweet, or the 150 characters of an Instagram bio. The information we choose to post or the media we share with our followers is our definition of ourselves, ‘This is what you see, and that is how I want you to see me.’ In other cultures names or titles define who people are, what relationships they will have, and can convey storybooks worth of information, with just a few syllables. For the purposes of this paper the culture that will be examined is that of Bengali individuals and their lives portrayed when immigrating to America in the book, The Namesake written by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The main character, Nikhil Gangoli spends the entire book agonizing over his name, torn between his inherited Bengali culture, and his born to America lifestyle he spends all his time letting his name define him. He thinks people don’t take him seriously because of his name, originally Gogol, when he finds out, or rather as the reader you find out the only person not taking him seriously, or constantly doubting every move he makes, is himself.
“He is afraid to be Nikhil, someone he doesn't know. Who doesn't know him...It's a part of growing up, they tell him, of being a Bengali.” (Chapter 3 Paragraph 13) This quote taken from The Namesake is from Gogol’s early youth, when he gets renamed from his pet name, Gogol. Originally he is not fond of this name, because it is unfamiliar and uncomfortable for him to change what everyone calls him, his life title. So as a young boy, he chooses to stay Gogol, which later on he regrets, thinking his pet name is stupid, and changes it back to Nikhil. This back and forth struggle over, what people will call him, how people will view him, and the struggle of defining himself through a title that, at the end of the day doesn’t matter is the biggest theme of the book, and for many throughout their entire lives.
Through the way media has evolved, to include every part of our lives, people no longer know what it is to define one’s self, everyone simplifies and belittles what and who they are, to be interesting at a glance. This makes everything less meaningful, when people throughout the world should be able to just embrace their complexities. In a recent podcast titled, Finding the Self in Selfie (This American Life, 2015) a few teenage girls were talking about their experiences and familiarity with the rules of interacting on Instagram, and what it means to comment or double tap.
“Especially because we, like just started High school, so we’re meeting a lot of new people, so you would comment on someone’s photo who you’re not really super close with or that you don’t know really well, and it's sort of a statement, like, ‘I wanna be friends with you’ or ‘I wanna get to know you’ or like, ‘I think you’re cool’. If someone that you don’t know very well commented on your photo, it's sort of like an unspoken agreement that you have to comment back on their photo. Like when you’re making new friends, if they comment on your photo, you comment on their photo.”
Almost to say that the way to meet new people and force friendships is through your online persona, how you present, or even more to the point, sell yourself. Later in the interview the incoming freshman girls admit, that the way you present yourself online, is almost like you’re marketing yourself, like you are the product, manager, and the marketing team, trying to keep people interested and concerned with knowing about you and your life. Squeezing anything cool or notable about yourself into an Instagram bio, or caption, and sticking a filter on a group picture of your friends having “Tons of fun!” being the only thing keeping us, in this generation current. And beyond that, people making friends and even romantic partners or hookups in the private message sections, or DMs of Instagram.
“...I tell her, don't you hate when you get screenshot, Bitch that DM wasn't for everybody, I love tha gram I love tha gram, I'm addicted to it I know I am...” A piece of a very popular rap right now, brought to us by Yo Gotti, who may not be a credible source at first glance, but as a voice for the young of this generation, and the behavior now known as normal, very trustworthy. People being debased to a steady photostream on their phones. This is being highly studied all over the world, and the impact of the internet in general on the mass public has been scrutinized by many since the mid 90’s, but the most powerful words, come from an actress, a media personality, and someone you think would be completely uninvolved in public speaking, Thandie Newton, who in her thirteen minute TED Talk addressed embracing self, and otherness.
“We each have a self, but I don’t think that we’re born with one...The fundamental state of ‘oneness’ is lost on us very quickly...it’s no longer valid, or real...” This transition from having a fundamental sense of ‘oneness’ to being completely withdrawn from everything comes quickly, almost without warning. Unfortunately though, most young adults choose to isolate themselves into different internet profiles in an attempt to recreate that oneness through a self-constructed image that in truth can never fully capture their entire presence. That being said, this trend will likely never end, but the self imposed need to sell ourselves on our media will hopefully be less impending through the different voices pointing out this almost self destructive behavior.
Ghosts in the Machine, NY Times
Quotes from The Namesake
Thandie Newton: Embracing otherness, embracing myself. (TED Talk)
This American Life: Status Update
Yo Gotti, Down in the DM