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Why do Computer Wallpapers Feature the Beach?

why-do-computer-wallpapers-feature-the-beach

I once lived in a two-story house overlooking a public park, and it was just a hundred steps off the beach. I can’t say that I had this personal and intimate connection with the sea – I wasn’t the type of person like the bearded, Point Break guy in movies where he can’t last a day without surfing the waves. In fact, I hardly came to the beach by myself while I was growing up. Childhood memories of mine that involved the beach in some ways were always those with people around me whom I knew or was related to. That was mostly for safety reasons, as a five or six-year-old shouldn’t be left unattended surrounded by a big body of water.

The beach was so near to me then – it was during the first ten years of my existence. Removed from that situation more than ten years later, I sit in front of a laptop that has the picture of a beach as its desktop wallpaper. This high-definition, horizontally-oriented picture in front of me looks alien. I’ve only been on a few beaches where coconut trees grew this high. The beach that was close to my childhood home didn’t have plenty of coconut trees lined up on the shore. And it was not near close to the beaches that get marketed by travel agencies, and especially not the type of beach that would get featured on a desktop wallpaper.

My beach was close to the sea wall, and it was only in my adult life that I realized that it was not a very practical place to go for a swim. I remember when I was in college and a few of my classmates paid a surprise visit. We ventured to where that sea wall began, and the daredevil of the group did not even hesitate to take off and swim on the edge of that man-made structure. He tried climbing up – which the high tide helped him do – and struggled as his bare knees scraped against the stony sloped façade. He bled, of course. To which the college-kid head in him just laughed and went back swimming, the water around him turning a little bit red.

Desktop Wallpaper of a Beach

The wallpaper of a beach in front of me offers none of the thrill, laughter, nor pain of a real-life beach encounter. Nor does it offer any nostalgia, excitement, not even hope. The white sands that occupy the bottom-third of the frame, extending to the Start menu and the rest of the Taskbar, looks too white and perfect. It looks doctored. The sands of my childhood beach were nowhere close to perfect white – they were predominantly black and dark-brown. Black, because the occasional beach-goer would cook fish over a grill, leaving char and burnt particulates. Dark-brown, because that’s just how most unglamourous beaches look like (and that’s okay – we don’t need dolomite for us to enjoy the view).

This leads me to a very important conclusion about beaches – they mean nothing to us without personal experiences in them.

My Greatest Hits

I may not have the richest collection of experiences on the beachside, but I can rattle off a few greatest hits:

  • When I was four or five, my family would take me near where the seawall was and this uncle of mine would build a sand structure around where I was sitting. The first time he did this, I didn’t have any idea what he was building. But the more he did it, as well as my other relatives telling me what it was, I figured that it was a speedboat. He would dig around where I was sitting at until it felt like I was sitting on a platform – the front seat of the boat. And he would build seats for the rest at the back. I don’t know how many times he did this, but my memory tells me this happened almost every week.
  • When I was eight or nine, my high-school-aged cousins who lived in the city visited, and the older one who was tall, dark and skinny baited me into following him near the deep. I was at an age where I would go frantic whenever the soles of my feet where unable to touch any seafloor beneath me. Grabbing me by the armpits from behind, he bounced up and down – a motion I was coerced to follow – and soon enough the images of my aunts, uncles, and cousins on the shore became smaller and smaller. Before he could take me any deeper, I was restless and panicky enough that he relented and took me back. Why is this on my greatest hits, you might ask? Not because it’s pleasant – but because it’s vivid.
  • When I was sixteen, it was Easter Sunday and the beach was perfect. This again involved my cousins, but from a different family. I saw my uncle’s guitar plopped up against a monobloc chair sticking out from under a bamboo table. I had only started playing the guitar at the time and learned a few Oasis songs through the summer. You know those jamming sessions they show on TV and movies where there’s a guy with cornrows strumming and tapping an acoustic guitar, and the rest of the posse huddles up around singing the same song – and this organic, lively sing-along ensues – that’s exactly what happened that day. Except the part with the cornrows – I’ve always had straight, black hair. This hour-long guitar jam by the beachside belongs near the top of my all-time best memories by the beach – a guitar novice like me able to produce coherent musical accompaniment that my group of cousins, uncles, and aunts could throw in lyrics to match. My fingers hurt like hell afterwards, but it was awesome.

A Means to an End

The PC wallpaper in front of me produces no such memories – no speedboat made of sand, no panicking in deep waters, not even evoking a jam session by the beach. The wallpaper instead reminds me that a lot of our pursuits, especially professionally or career-wise, often result in artificial gains. No amount of pay-raises, performance bonuses, nor promotions will ever offer an organic, nostalgic, greatest-hits type of feeling. That is not to discount the exhilarating sensation when you surprisingly discover that your boss decided to promote you and increase your salary by X percent – those always feel awesome too.

My point is, the person behind the laptop staring at the beachfront wallpaper doesn’t have that type of end in mind. These pay-raises, performance bonuses and promotions are but a means to desired end – often involving this person vacationing in a beach at some island (where upon arrival, his thoughts wander back to work, worrying about a report that’s due in a few weeks). The desk worker’s goal is not to get a larger or better desk, but to ultimately be free of that desk’s bondage – a freedom captured in the image of the beachfront wallpaper.

Sitting here, my laptop’s battery near-drained of a typical day’s work (and no plans of charging unless an unexpected meeting popped up on my calendar) I dream of my home’s beach. The sands were dirty-brown, the fish were always stinking up the place – but I loved every bit of it. Because it was real.

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