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Mirror Versus the Front-Facing Camera

I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between a mirror and a front-facing camera.

In the usual rush to reach work, I end up using the commute time for completing the ‘last mile’ of the ‘getting ready’ process. I recently noticed how I have started using the front-facing camera instead of a mirror (or mostly the rear view mirror of the car J )for the purpose.  I remember staring back at myself intently wondering if I look the same with the camera as I do in the mirror. I didn’t.  I felt a bit puzzled because at one level the camera served well the purpose of the mirror (enough for me to replace it right?) yet I looked different. Why?

It occurred to me that despite similar functionalities there is one big fundamental difference in my experience. When you look in the mirror, you don’t just look at yourself, you look at yourself in the eye. On the other hand, when you look at a front-facing camera, you do look at yourself but interestingly not in the eye, instead you find yourself looking at an external object – the camera.

The mirror poses no boundary between the real-you and the reflection, the front-facing camera masquerades to do the same, but its very existence invades the space between self and reflection.


Image for representation only. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Is this important? In context of how we are adopting technologies such as the front-facing camera, I thought it perhaps might be.

Sharing on social media has got a shot in the arm thanks to technologies such as front-facing camera where you can ‘control’ the self-image. An outsider no longer ‘holds’ control (quite literally) of how you appear, with the self-facing camera, you decide the precise moment, angle, expression that you deem ‘correct’ for the construction of your self-image. There is a reversal in the hierarchy of the final sanction of the image creation, from an outsider to you. The control lies not with an external person shooting your image, it rests with you. The sense of ‘control’ is misplaced and can actually have dangerous repercussions because it misses one important point:

When we look at ourselves in the front-facing camera, we are actually not looking at our self, we are looking at the camera. In process, we are losing all individual agency to an external device and making it the intermediary between our image and the real self. There soon will come a time when we no longer have the desire to see the self. In fact there will be no self.

There will only be a self-image.

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