Mirrors have come a long way since the time of early humans who used pools of dark, still waters to look at their reflection. The earliest manufactured mirrors were pieces of polished, naturally occurring volcanic stone like obsidian. Examples of such obsidian mirrors, dating back to 6000 BC, are found in Anatolia (present day Turkey). There is evidence of mirrors made of polished copper, in Mesopotamia from 4000 BC, in Egypt from around 3000 BC and in Central and South America from around 2000 BC onwards. The evolution of glass mirrors in the Middle Ages followed improvements in glassmaking technology. The silvered-glass mirrors found throughout the world today first started in Germany almost 200 years ago. In 1835, a German chemist Justus von Liebig developed a process for applying a thin layer of metallic silver to one side of a pane of clear glass. Mirrors were accessible and owned only by the elite before they were mass produced.
Age of ‘Being Better’
I believe mirrors are one of the most important tools invented by humans, which has contributed in the development of human psyche. A mirror lets a person see oneself for the first time and gives the opportunity for comparison with others in terms of looks. Humans have been social animals where the concentration has always been on co-existing, collaborating and co-creating. The comparison among each other had been simply on skill, strength and ability (remember the swayamvars of those days and the selection process). The more one started looking into mirrors, the more self aware one started being of oneself and hence, an age of comparison started – comparison based on looks, on how one presents oneself and how one reflects oneself in society. This was the era of the understanding and rise of the ‘self-image’ – the mental picture of oneself, both as a physical body and as an individual. Though positive self image contributed to a healthy society, there was also a raise in the projection of negative self-image focusing on imperfections and a constant stress on self improvement.
The four types of self-image result from how an individual sees oneself, how others see the individual, how the individual perceives others see them and how the individual perceives the individual sees oneself.
The evolution of camera and photographs crystallized these self-images and experiences for the sake of memory. With every invention based on the mirror, the construct of the self has evolved. The human race had become more conscious – conscious of how one smiles, speaks, conducts and emotes in society. The scope of comparison had increased and so had the pressure of keeping up with a bloated self-image.
Mirrors have also been a start point to several superstitions. Some believe that demons could escape through the mirror into the living world and cause destruction. To prevent this, they cover the mirrors. It is believed that if you drop a mirror and it does not break, good luck will be coming your way. Just like when you drop a mirror and it does break, you end up with bad luck for seven years.
Age of ‘Being the constant best’ and the False Self
Today, social media has taken the effect of mirrors and cameras on the human psyche to the next level. The age of social media has become the age of validation – an age where the mirror has just not remained a reflection or a memory but has started communicating through validation (likes). A mirror that has started giving feedback. One is more engaged with this new mirror neglecting the actual world one lives in. We now live in two worlds and shall live on many more in the coming future losing one’s sense of self. Mankind is rapidly going through a transition with no rules or guidance to regulate one’s psyche. The future of foundational education for toddlers shall be on healthy navigating tools in the several worlds. It is time that we wake up to the new reality, or realities, to develop norms for a healthy psyche.
“Man shouldn’t be able to see his own face – there’s nothing more sinister. Nature gave him the gift of not being able to see it, and of not being able to stare into his own eyes.
Only in the water of rivers and ponds could he look at his face. And the very posture he had to assume was symbolic. He had to bend over, stoop down, to commit the ignominy of beholding himself.
The inventor of the mirror poisoned the human heart.”
Hariesh K Sankaran, Associate Director, School of Interior & Furniture Design, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)
Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.