The Dilemma of Deleting Pictures

To imagine Hamlet in the current age would be interesting; for the expression of his existential agony with the famous soliloquy from the nunnery scene would have reverberated with most of the youth today. Even if it sounds preposterous, it is not difficult to conjure him up with a smartphone in his hand, trying to get rid of the notification pop-up that sits adamantly on his lock-screen – storage space running out. His rant, later to become a coveted relic of English Literature, might not start with the traditional, “To be or not to be,” but a more probable “To delete or not to delete” – a slightly altered version of the question to suit the needs of the age.

Should I delete this photo?

There is something ubiquitous about not being able to make this decision. You would be lying if you claim to have never gone through this dilemma. Irrespective of how decisive or whimsical one is as a person, there are always some moments that are spent in thinking if this ‘Blast from the Past’ deserves to be carried forward in the future. I am a shameless hoarder, and discounting the rare cases when I already have an answer ready, “Yes I want it gone,” or “No, I’ll keep it,” it is frequent that my decision-making agencies reach an impasse. I ponder more than I should, because deleting a picture is not only obliterating all traces of its material existence; but also condemning a moment of meaning to eternal oblivion.

In other words, for me, clearing my gallery doesn’t solely mean wiping out what is not relevant, but also meticulously choosing what I wish to keep with me. It is about deciding which moments of my past are to be preserved and how to make meaning out of them in the present. Perhaps there lies the dilemma, because most decisions, if not all, are regrettable.

There is no denying that as we grow up, we evolve as individuals. We metamorphose; we meet new people, find new artists to relate with, and acquire a taste for new sets of aesthetics. We discover latent abilities and start to characterise the world we see in a newer rhetoric. As we grow apart from our past, we keep trimming it continually; something that a gardener does to an overgrown leafy bush to keep it in shape. And there comes the conundrum –

How do you treat your past self, if with it you share little or nothing of your present? Will you take a pair of garden scissors and promptly snip them off?

Deleting is tiring; it involves snapping ties with previously-made attachments. But it is necessary, and can be liberating, especially after a separation or a break-up. Personally, it is not the aching fingers but the emotional upheaval of the process that is exhausting. We close certain chapters of our life not wishing to read them again and revisiting them can often be painful. Unleashing everything that was once tightly shut in a ZIP folder, it often undoes all the ‘letting go’ that had been achieved so far.

I am reminded of Naina’s monologue from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, “Memories are like boxes of chocolate; once open you cannot stop at one,” as forgotten pictures surface with unforgettable moments, one after another in an unbroken rhythm. Most trigger bitterness, some make me wistful, and few are strangely cathartic. Against an unabashed concoction of nostalgia and trauma, that is so intensely personal yet empowering and crippling at the same time, deleting decisions become complicated.

More recently, I abstained from sending every second picture of a pre-pandemic world for a one-way trip to the recycle bin.  After COVID-19 disrupted our “normal” lives, even the most ordinary of photos in my gallery catapults me to a faraway galaxy; to a time when unmasked classmates gallivanting in the canteen, or sharing a cup of hot coffee was yet not unthinkable. These photos which I habitually would have deleted, but didn’t, are now fossils of a life that continues to live as long as the photos continue to exist.

There are certain images we intensely cling to, like the sunset sky of a college fest day, a last selfie with a loved one, or even a hazy click of four martinis, all tokens of a time that is now outlandishly incongruous. These photos now sustain us in ways that we hadn’t thought of when we clicked them. In some ways, it is these attempts of freezing the fleeting reality that now interprets our world for us, and helps us to sail through it.

A classmate had once asked me that why do I click so many pictures at the first place when I know that I can’t delete them easily. I did not have an answer then, and still don’t. I think I will when I will finally understand why does that one photo, which I clicked two years ago on a random August evening, of a little boy playing with a puppy in blissful innocence, never run out of joy to look at.

Taking inspiration from Marie Kondo, I return to finish what I started – cleaning my device of useless stuff. I look at the precious picture again; it’s imperfect in all visible ways. Should I delete it?

Hritam Mukherjee is a graduate of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata and an aspiring journalist. If not doomscrolling through Twitter and Instagram, he can be found either planning or writing his next blog post. 

Featured image credit: 愚木混株 Cdd20/Pixabay