All posts by Nida Sohail

Forget the Insta-appeal, go discover the world

By David  Light

Novelist Gustave Flaubert’s musings on travel, for me, epitomise why casting your gaze on new horizons is vital. In his 1849 memoir detailing a classical sojourn in Egypt*, the French author penned the inspired line: “Travelling makes one modest — you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ‘Here, here’. If witnessing the majesty of the Himalayas, attempting to process the natural azure of a Pacific atoll, or fathoming the ancient achievements of Petra’s fourth century BC Nabatean civilisation doesn’t give you a kick in the humbles, nothing shall.

Unfortunately, it appears, almost 170 years after Flaubert wrote his piece, the sentiment has very much been consigned to the annals of history. Like hearing an American president utter the words, “The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit,” (as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in 1933) now feels like an address from another dimension, the idea that anyone believes observing and integrating into a foreign culture during an expedition is a more important objective than self promotion is equally distant.

Humility and moral advancement be hanged! Celebrity is today’s premium and voyagers are going to make sure you know they are having a ruddy good time whilst not so subtly putting forward they occupy a greater part of the world than you and those they encounter.

I don’t want to lay the blame solely at social media’s door, but it is difficult to deny as soon as people started turning their cameras’ focus away from views and onto their own faces to create posts, the narrative shifted.

Of course, holiday photography is nothing new. The subjection of relatives to an extended slideshow of your Wellington-booted tour through the coal pits of north Wales is a rite of passage. Though, in order to impress anonymous followers in return for likes that are oh so crucial, snapping pics has essentially morphed into frenzied brand building.

So you better get to it! How about a dozen or so close-ups of your mug in various states of ecstasy on what could be a beach in Unawatuna, or Santorini, or…it doesn’t really matter, does it? Hey, why not add an ‘inspirational’ quote that means nothing? That’ll get them sharing. Something within the realm of: “my heart may be on the left, but being here makes it feel right.” If only we could all be #Blessed with such wit.

It could be argued travel companies and tourist hotspots are not doing themselves any favours. Properties and sites are constantly promoting their “Insta-worthiness” in an attempt to draw in the crowd for whom this criterion is increasingly essential. Both target and target audience are missing the point. The gift of travel is surely the endowment of experience, not having the opportunity for discovery sail by as you take a million selfies. I’m not quibbling with souvenir snapshots. It is in a tourist’s nature to document. No, it’s the full-scale, million-take photo shoots where the place or its people are not even the subject. You’ve seen the ones. The same pose is simulated in an insufferable Groundhog Day-like prison of repetition, if not for the person in the frame, at least for the potential long-suffering lackey holding the camera. And what is the result? Gauche attempts at intoning how much has been learnt from a visit when the serial poster hasn’t looked away from a lens for more than 45 seconds.

A comparison we find to be apt in these situations is the friend at what they volunteer (unsolicited) is the best party they have ever attended and messages through the night to impart as much. If they have time to do so, like the wannabe celebs on social channels may stream endless stories, they’re probably not getting as much out of it as they claim. So what is the answer? Will the inexorable rise of the ‘Gram-trotters’ halt? Of course not. Will it get worse before it gets better? Probably. Will it bottom out… eventually.

Everything must. Oddly enough, a quick sketch from Comedy Central Arabia’s Bad Snappers recently lifted my spirits. In it, the two leads, frustrated by their friends’ pictures from abroad, decide to mock-up a fake vacation in their garden for the benefit of their feeds’ subscribers. Staple scenarios including ‘feet in the sand’, ‘shoulder-deep in pool’ and ‘looking out at a sunset’ were achieved using kids’ playground equipment, a bath-tub and a cunningly positioned poster. While it doesn’t signal the end of the holiday boasters, the fact they are being parodied by peers knowingly nodding to the artifice behind such output is a step in the right direction. With any luck one day, egos kept in better check, we may ignore the constant desire for nameless approval, look up and once again begin discovering just how small we all are.

*Gustave Flaubert, Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour (Lon-don: Penguin Classics, 1996)

David is an avid traveller, given a chance he’s off 

Love will rise like a phoenix if the Taj Mahal turns to ashes

By Suresh Pattali

 At the outset, let me confess: I have not seen the Taj Mahal for real. Nor do I desire to anytime soon. A crime it is. A romantic crime. There is no need to traverse thousands of kilometres to stand in front of one of the universally admired masterpieces of world heritage and say ‘Wah Taj’. Because for me the Taj is metaphysical. Because there is a Taj in my neighbourhood, not so grandiose as the real one but as poignant as the Mughal legend. Continue reading Love will rise like a phoenix if the Taj Mahal turns to ashes

Thanks, Gene. I’ll miss the times you ‘bear’ with me

By Alvin R. Cabral

Recently, I received some really horrible news, one that turned my world upside down, bringing me to the point of catatonia and even almost booking a flight back home to Manila so I could personally confirm if what I had long been dreading secretly had become a reality.

Continue reading Thanks, Gene. I’ll miss the times you ‘bear’ with me

I don’t pop BP pills anymore, it pays to join a gym

By Sunil Vaidya

Life begins at 60. Well, at least I can say that about myself, thanks to my daughter and the wife. The two ladies of the house decided on a surprise gift for my 60th birthday. I wasn’t enthused about the surprise but had no choice, so I signed on the dotted line the day I completed a full cycle of life, according to Chinese belief. Continue reading I don’t pop BP pills anymore, it pays to join a gym

I have lost 10kg, but I’m still waiting for the applause

By Deepthi Nair

I have been on a weight loss journey since April 2018. It all started when I had to pick a dress for a formal party that I had to go to and none of my old clothes were flattering my body type. I was at my wits’ end and close to tears. That kickstarted a fitness journey, which is still ongoing and I intend to keep at it, not withstanding the fact that this year’s edition of Dubai Fitness Challenge is over. Continue reading I have lost 10kg, but I’m still waiting for the applause

Magnificent Mary packs a punch to spark a revolution

By Allan Jacob

A bout of anger or sadness has gripped me. I cannot fathom what it is and why I am being shackled by these emotions. I’d like to get into a contest to find out. A punch up would settle it — I mean like watching a boxing bout featuring World Champion Mary Kom who recently won her sixth title, a record she shares with Cuban Felix Savon, a former champion in the men’s event. Continue reading Magnificent Mary packs a punch to spark a revolution

For starters, how about watching online food videos?

When Will Marston gets home from his job and he wants to unwind, it’s not highlights from last night’s game he turns to — it’s online food videos. “It’s kind of like a meditation or relaxation thing I do when I get off work,” says Marston, a 20-something from San Francisco.

He has a few favourite You-Tube channels he visits, including Binging with Babish, a series that re-creates dishes from movies and TV shows, and Tasty, videos produced by BuzzFeed that often feature sped-up hands mixing together ingredients. Brevity is key. If the video time stamp is more than six or eight minutes, Marston won’t hit play. “If it’s longer than that, it’s usually more talking than actual showing of the cooking instructions. So I’ll usually skip over those,” he says.

Marston is not unique in his habit of watching online food videos. When the Food Network launched its second TV channel in 2010, it was big personalities such as Emeril Lagasse and Ina Garten who attracted viewers to their 30-minute shows as much as their calorie-laden creations. But just as Netflix has disrupted TV programming, YouTube and Instagram have found success with these online amuse-bouches, drawing millions of viewers to watch recipes being made in five minutes or less.

While nearly half of all adults watch food videos on YouTube, Millennials are the drivers of online food content, watching 30 per cent more, on average, than other demographics, according to a 2014 Google study. And as a result, they are powering an unprecedented growth in online food channel subscriptions. Binging with Babish, for example, has more than 3.4 million subscribers; Tasty has more than 10 million.“(Food programming has) evolved over time,” says Potter Palmer, a lecturer in the gastronomy programme at Boston University. He says he used to spend four weeks talking about TV programming in his “Food and Visual Culture” class, but over the past decade, the number of students watching food prepared on TV has dropped. Now he spends only a week on the subject. “(In) this day and age, it’s all YouTube channels and Instagram feeds,” Professor Palmer says.

This shift is something that publishers are paying close attention to. One of those publishers is America’s Test Kitchen, an independent food media company that produces magazines, cookbooks, websites, and TV shows. While ATK claims the most-watched cooking show on public television, chief creative officer Jack Bishop says they see You-Tube as a gateway for viewers to discover more of their content that sits behind a paywall. “We like YouTube because it is unlike some of the other social media platforms, where 20 seconds is considered long. It allows us to tell a story,” says Bishop.

ATK also has noticed a totally different subscriber base through its YouTube channel, which has more than 511,000 subscribers. While a woman over 50 is its typical television viewer, 75 per cent of its You-Tube audience are men 18 to 34 years old, according to Bishop. “There probably are not a lot of 23-year-old guys sitting on the sofa watching public television on the weekend,” Bishop says.

One of ATK’s more popular YouTube series is Kitchen Smarts, two- to three-minute features on tips like how to crack and separate eggs perfectly, how to make cold brew coffee at home, and how to make a lattice pie crust. The YouTube channels are “somewhat of a different presentation, but it is the same in-depth cooking information designed to make you successful in the kitchen,” says Bishop.

The company has set ambitious goals for reaching even more online viewers.

“Video is increasingly important…. It is how more and more people want to be consuming content about food,” says Bishop. But print doesn’t show any signs of going away, according to Bishop – the ATK book division experienced its best year on record in 2017, he says.

Marston says he has yet to make any of the recipes he’s watched online, although he’s bookmarked several pages to come back to – at some point. “Where I get joy out of it is seeing good food being made and people enjoying it,” he says. 

The Christian Science Monitor News Service