I recently went to my nephew’s baptism, and when I looked back at the video I had taken at my sister’s request, I felt a wave – albeit a small one – of shame wash over me. The pastor’s face reflected an obvious annoyance that affected even this extremely lapsed Lutheran. Later that week, capturing an image of my son kicking a goal into a net and receiving a medal meant I didn’t actually see the goal in person; I saw a digitized version of it in the camera’s screen. It’s not nearly as high-definition as the first person experience I could have had. The recent concert put on by my children’s preschool was preceded by the director’s request to take photographs only before and after the performance; only a few parents followed directions (I taped it from my lap, employing the highly developed note-passing skills I learned in seventh grade.). And this week parents all over our area will be photographing and videotaping their children walking down aisles and picking up diplomas, and they’ll see it all through the miniature lo-res screen of their smartphones or cameras.
I understand the motivation; I participate in the act. Preserving the
special moments in our lives is a way of documenting and remembering. Digital photography and huge storage capabilities have allowed us to file away every moment of our lives for rainy day viewing. But just as we should not necessarily DO everything we CAN do, perhaps the ability to document a moment and save it for later has watered down our real life experiences to the point where we have forgotten why we wanted to document them in the first place. We are sacrificing significant moments to show how special they are. And those moments are becoming a little less sacred the more we focus on capturing them.
I also think the discomfort I felt while holding my camera over the heads of those with a better view of my nephew’s baptized head comes from the realization that my focus on technology during a baptism is not too far removed from talking on a phone or texting while driving – one of my pet peeves and something that has caused more than a few close calls in my life. It all comes down to paying attention to where you are now and the people sharing that space with you.
The annoyed pastor, the proud face of my son making a goal, the nervous face of my child reciting a line during a preschool show, and the graduate searching for her mother’s face as she accepts her diploma are all met with the same thing: a set of eyes turned towards a screen and not at them, not the occasion. Just as it is disconcerting to have a video-chat with someone whose eyes are turned down looking at the you on the screen instead of into the little green light on the webcam, it’s a depressing statement about how we are choosing to experience our lives when we smile and wave at the pixels on a screen instead of our present-right-now-in-front-of-us loved ones. The difference is that a video-chat is keeping far away people closer, while the pixellated moments in the viewfinder are keeping close-by people apart.
I’ve decided to attempt to live more in the moment instead of planning for the photos and video with which I want to re-live the experience later. It’s not easy, especially for those of us just a little addicted to sharing. And I’m sure I’ll still carry my camera around wherever I go. However, I know that my children will appreciate my efforts. And I know I will appreciate being there more wholly.