How Hit Show Insecure Teaches You To Get What You Want in Life

What will we show our grandchildren?

I remember the days when my parents would show me old photos of themselves in their heyday. It was cool to see mum in her 70s gear, complete with afro, and dad spinning tunes at some hot party. I loved seeing photos of my grandparents, in family photos, looking dapper in their Sunday Best.

The other day I had a thought… What will I show my grandchildren? I don’t print photos anymore. I don’t really know anyone who does. Instead, my photographic memories live on hard drives, in clouds, in my email inbox, on Google and on some social networks. It’s unlikely that I’ll be 70 years old, digging into my current mac (which will be long dead and buried, and probably considered an ancient relic), trying to find photos of my youth.

All of the photos taken on my various smartphones (which I often remind myself to transfer onto my computer) will be long gone and buried. Is there going to be some 2070 version of iphoto that will carry all of my photos from the past few years until the day I die? Perhaps, but I don’t think so… Already I’ve had to move photos from different places in order to make sure that I keep them. They’re important to me.

In the past you’d take your photos, get them processed and put them in an album or in a box, ready to be retrieved as and when needed. There’s something special about coming across a long-forgotten album that takes you back to an earlier age and times that you’d forgotten, holding it in your hands and almost touching that memory again.

I love the digital era, but the same thing that makes it great – that it is digital – is the same thing that makes it not so great. Digital is here today, gone tomorrow. Look at MySpace. It was the hot thing. Now, who really thinks about it?

What happens when all of those social networks and digital services start shutting down, or are sold off and merge with others and change their links. Where do your photos go then?

I have been asking the same thing about my work, my writing. I have lost work online due to hackers. I have had pieces that I put time into moved to new areas of other publications’ sites, and buried somewhere. When I started writing, the aim was to create a paper trail of my life, some way by which future generations could read my work and (hopefully) learn something. Even if I store everything on my computer, I’m not going to be using the same computer forever am I?

The beauty of the writers who were before the digital age is that you go and find their archives, archives that – unless destroyed – remain in physical perpetuity. Not so with digital.

It’s a very interesting time, because the digital era offers so much. Many museums and cultural institutions are going online with their archives now and I believe that much older culture can be brought to a wider audience online. I have been able to find my grandfather’s journalism from the 60s in Google News’ digital archives. However, it is physical archives that are being taken online and digitized, meaning that if a site should one day totally crash and all content is gone forever, the originals still remain.

I believe that in the next few years we will see a return to physical formats. I think that people will realize that they want physical, tangible evidence of their lives, physical objects to touch and hold onto; objects with texture and depth, not just digital footprints which can be scrubbed out as easily as water washes over sand. After a relentless sprint into the future, it may be that some of us will want to return in some ways to the things we liked about the past such as physical photographs. This is really about the preservation of one’s own history and legacy.

In recent years I have noticed a growing number of polaroid photo booths in some shops, restaurants and clubs and I’m always keen to jump in. It’s great to see that polaroid once it has been produced.

We may return to creating physical products first, then moving onto digital, rather than the other way around. This is bearing in mind that there are  actually young people growing up for whom a physical photograph is an alien concept – perhaps they will not feel the same way.

However, I’d certainly like to have physical photographs to show my grandchildren. Hmm…can anyone say Kodak?!

The wisdom of Oprah

After all her success as a talkshow superstar, Oprah Winfrey’s ability to stay grounded makes her an inspiring role model

In 2004, I took part in a BBC documentary series called Black Ambition, which documented the lives of six black students, including myself, in our final year at Cambridge University. My most memorable line in that documentary, and the one for which I got the most stick, was the one in which I said that I wanted to be like Oprah.

I’ve been enthralled by Oprah Winfrey for a long time. Although her daytime talk shows started to become a little too middle-aged for me some time ago and I admittedly don’t watch them very often now, it is the woman herself as well as what she represents that continues to inspire me.

Oprah is probably the most recognised and influential black woman in the world. She’s the world’s first black female billionaire, a major philanthropist, an award-winning actress, a massively successful talk show host, a magazine publisher, and a film producer – to name just a few of her many achievements. That is not the future that was expected of a someone who was raised on a farm in the deep South and then in inner city Milwaukee. It is not what was expected of a girl who was raped at the age of nine and became a mother at the age of 14 to a child who died in infancy.

In every way, from the start of her life until now, Winfrey has defied the odds. Her ability to do the unexpected has shown many other women, like myself, that you can have it all on a material and career level. However, more importantly, in a world which carries unrelenting pressures for women to look like airbrushed, glossy, stick-thin female celebrities, singers and models, Oprah also made it cool and important for women to accept their own humanity, imperfections and flaws.

Oprah showed us that “having it all” is about accepting yourself, warts and all, and being ok with who you are. She may be rich and powerful, but one thing Oprah isn’t is perfect. She’s not a traditional beauty, nor a size zero. In fact, Oprah has made no bones about her weight problems, her past and the various issues that she has gone through in her life. She has revealed her fears and to her flaws and it is the sharing of her vulnerability and authenticity that has arguably made her the global phenomenon that she is.

Celebrity culture is based on an illusion of perfection. It is still rare in this day and age to have a high profile person – unless they are caught doing something they shouldn’t have done – publicly admit, especially on a regular basis, that despite their riches and fame, they are really just human, dealing with their life and its baggage like everyone else. Oprah not only does that herself but has an amazing ability to get the guests who appear on her show to do the same.

With her Best Life programme, which is based on taking a holistic approach to life and focuses on emotional and spiritual success as well as financial success, Oprah brought to TV and eventually to print and online, the notion that people – women in particular – need to look at ourselves in a way that goes much deeper than the superficial. There’s no other mainstream talkshow host who will do an entire season of shows about spirituality, as Oprah did with Eckhart Tolle’s New Earth series. That series, which featured audience participation from around the globe via Skype, had people “ah-ha-ing” all over the place as they discovered new insights and experienced breakthroughs in all areas of their lives. Oprah emphasized that life isn’t just about what you do, but about your being.

The message that success in life means being whole, healthy and complete internally rather than just on the outside is one that is otherwise missing, not just from the media but from modern society as a whole. It’s a message that many desperately need to hear. Thanks to Oprah for bringing that to the world. Long may it continue as she starts her OWN cable TV channel in 2011.