When a five year old yells out, “Wanna see a somersault?” it is not a question. When he is already dressed like Superman, you had better be watching.
I was watching, from five states away, through my 3.5″ iPhone screen. I watched him plant his head into the carpet, kick up, then fall sideways. Enthusiastic cheering ensued from all sides. My girls tried to take the phone–they just wanted to tell me about their day–but their brothers kept stealing the limelight with their dancing and super hero moves. The phone shook with my wife’s laughter.
I lay there and considered the miracles of technology that allowed me to be with my family, even when I was two thousand miles away. I marveled about how grown up my daughters are, and what a little brute my 2 year old is. But most of all, I thought about apps: “I wonder if there’s a way to record Facetime calls so I can watch this again later.” That thought dominated my capacities for the next 5 minutes.
When I recognized what I was doing, I felt a sting of rebuke. Rather than tasting the moment, I was asking for a to-go box. How utterly silly that was, especially when I could just call them again the next day. Why was I trying to hoard this experience like someone who is about to lose it? It was a small thing, and I might have let myself off the hook, but this is a trend for me.
I try so hard to save things that I forget to savor them.
Case in point: we are a family who takes walks to the park. They usually involve a double stroller, a couple of bikes, and sometimes a tricycle. When we reach the playground, I pull out my phone, and my kids pull out their processed-cheeeeeese-smiles. I follow Jack around the most. “C’mon kid, this is for the blog,” I say. He looks at his feet and tries to duck away from me. “Smile, buddy,” I plead.
“My-o, buddy,” he parrots back.
I squeeze the trigger rapidly and stop when he runs away. I don’t know whether he’s headed for the slide or the bench, because I want to see if I got any good ones first. I flip through them and pass the phone around. “Awww, that’s a good one, dad. He’s almost looking at you,” my girls tell me. And they’re a little interested, I suppose, but they really just want to play lava monster.
When it gets dark, we head for home, where we will relive our playground adventure. I might even throw on a sepia filter. It will go nicely in my digital library with the other thousands of forgotten moments. The best ones will go in a Facebook album, because I’m cool like that.
And years down the road, my kids might even remember that precious evening when we had yet another photo shoot.
Pictures used to prompt memory. Now they can replace it.
I worry about these Instagram filters and Facebook albums. I worry that they could become graven images; sacred stones of remembrance that, by sheer accident, replace the tangible affection with loved ones. I worry that our retina displays are getting between us; that we are living vicariously through our own thumbs.
I’m not assuming that you are the same way. My wife finds joy in the act of taking pictures. Plus, she has a lousy memory, so iPhone photography is a healthy activity. If you’re like her, I applaud you.
But this is about the rest of us. The ones who enjoy gadgetry too much. The ones who take our phones out and flip it between our fingers when we’re idle for more than thirty seconds. For me, technology has become like a nervous tick. I don’t bite my nails, I read the news online. All of it leaves me dryer. More detached from the beauty around me.
And I’m tired of it.
My wife and I went to a Civil Wars concert a couple of summers ago, and I couldn’t wait to hear them sing Poison and Wine. There’s this one part in the final chorus where John Paul and Joy jump the scales together in crystalline harmony. It’s my favorite moment on the entire album. When the song came, I got ready. When the chorus came, I started recording. And when the song wound down, I realized I the moment had flown past me. I couldn’t even remember it.
Oh sure, I had captured it with my hand-held sub-sub-sub par recording device, and I could enjoy that muffled, 20-rows-back, heads-in-the-way rendition ad nauseam. But as for that genuine raw, live beauty… I had missed it. It missed me.
I don’t want to miss live beauty anymore. Especially when it’s doing somersault in my living room.