I was recently at a wedding where the bride and groom had the nerve to request that the no one post any record of the wedding to social media networks until after they themselves had been able to post the first pictures of their event.
The small gasps, titters and whispers that were heard amongst the guests reflected what most of us would expect: What an unusual request to make of one’s guests at a momentous event in the Age of Social Media.
Or perhaps more accurately, we should call it: the Age of It Never Happened if it Wasn’t Posted on Social Media.
Obviously, one can never truly mandate that another be completely present at any event – clearly, full presence is a bit of a long shot short of the ability to exercise full mind control over another. (“Google Mind Control” – coming soon, right after they make Google Glass a commercial success, no doubt.)
And when told about the no-photos-please-be-present request, one of my friends pointed out, “But what if I wanted to think about what happened on Game of Thrones while the ceremony was happening?? Then I wouldn’t have been fully present, would I?”
Now, my goal is not to start any sort of flame-wars over the social and intellectual importance of Game of Thrones versus focusing on the event at hand (because I know I will lose that argument), but I’ll admit that my friends, the bride and groom, did have a point.
A very good point.
A very good point made me frankly a smidge uncomfortable.
The thought of placing my iPhone back in my handbag for the 21.4-minute ceremony made me slightly nervous and edgy. My inner whiney ‘tween protested in my head almost instantaneously, “But how will I take a picture of the bridesmaids as they line up in their matching dresses with pretty flowers? And what about the bride? I MUST get that blurry, slanted, over-people’s-heads shot of her being walked down the aisle by her father that I will then slap a lacey frame around after putting a sepia filter on right before sharing with The Interweb! I simply must!! The world needs my skills using preset filters! ”
Nevermind that there was already an official wedding photographer with real camera equipment.
Let’s not mention the fact that no one had actually told me they really needed ME to take my amateur shots with a phone camera.
Let’s be totally clear why my inner child was chafing at being told to put the damn phone down:
These pictures were for me and me only. It was my right, as a guest, to snap away at the event to show that I was there. To put on my 2000+ picture camera roll on my phone never to be looked at again. To share on Facebook-a-gram with 594 of my loosely-termed “friends,” to fill their streams with yet one more photo among the 999+ photos they see every day and promptly forget about.
The ability for me and everyone else attending to snap and share the event is what gives it meaning for everyone, right? Or….maybe it’s just for me only. I mean, how could I expect to be validated as an interesting person with a fun life and exciting friends and a loving family and cute cats if I can’t publish them to the world in an ever-growing stream of mostly drivel? (And I take full responsibility for the drivel I contribute. Except I’d like to think that every once in a while I post something witty and hilarious. At least, it is in my head.)
And let’s be honest here — I get soooo busy attempting to share my experience with people who aren’t part of it and likely don’t even care about it, that I forget the reason I’m there in the first place — to be able to be present to witness and participate in and experience a very special event for people I care about that demarcates an important event in their lives. For some reason, they felt that they wanted me to be with them for this day along with many other people who have a meaning in their real world lives. They created a place for us all to be together with them for it. (And seriously, if they’d wanted to make this an event available to the general public, they could have live-streamed it. Apparently, they felt that wasn’t something they wanted.)
In honoring my friends’ request to be truly present, I realized that I’m honoring not only them and the experience they’re creating for all of us but that I’m actually truly honoring myself. For what actually gives life its sweetest meaning is being in that very moment-to-moment experience we all seem so keen to capture and share…and while I totally believe that it’s wonderful that we have the technology to snap photos of the event and hold on to those key moments, there’s something almost avoidant and protective about wanting to spend the duration of an event buried in our phone, checking in, tweeting, photo-posting, and basically sharing it all away, as if it’s difficult to just be in the moment, being present with other people in the world and enjoying it as it is happening.
I for one have been guilty of being that avoidant, of wanting to be in the moment but of being ambivalent about enjoying it too much. This can’t be blamed on social media or the latest connected gadgets or our highly-multitasked technology-laden world; it’s a life approach that goes much deeper. I remember my father gently telling me as a child, as I was multitasking on multiple projects and homework and just doing-doing-doing, that I needed to stop and smell the flowers.
Not to stop and photograph the flowers and then post them to something called Instagram. To smell the flowers.
Because it’s not possible to smell the flowers through a social networking site or an app. At least not yet….
So thank you, Phil and Julia, for reminding me to stop and smell all the flowers at your wedding, Which I didn’t literally do, despite some pictures people may or may not have posted on Facebook of the reception.
Dedicated to Phil and Julia, who dared to ask me to be Present as well as present at their wedding. Congratulations, you two crazy kids!