Is it just me, or has the world gone just a little selfie-insane? We seem to be so intent on recording every meal we eat, every vista we view, and every insight we hear that I kind of wonder just how much we actually are experiencing of our lives. It’s almost like if we didn’t record it, it didn’t really happen.
The epitome for me, as speaker extraordinaire Kristin Arnold wrote about so beautifully, was at the Train concert fundraiser at Meeting Professionals International’s 2016 World Education Congress this past June. The lead singer pulled two people out of the audience to sing with him on stage, and they spent their time in the limelight mugging for their own cameras. It was, as Kristin notes, deeply weird to watch.
Neen James, another awesome speaker and regular MeetingsNet contributor, just clicked this button for me again when she sent me an article outlining our “attention addiction” and how it can detract from a meeting-goer’s experience to live a meeting through the perspective of a small screen.
I’m just as addicted as the next person, of course. I love to be the first to tweet out that pithy quote and collect the retweets, to post that cool photo to Facebook or Instagram, or to snap that fun video. But I have noticed that the burning desire is much more banked than it used to be, especially when I’m at conferences. Maybe because there are so many more people contributing now that I don’t feel I have to do as much, but more and more I find myself wanting to just be there in the moment, absorbing the sights, sounds, smells, insights, ideas, and conversations surging all around me without reporting it all out to the world at large.
That feeling of accomplishment, that little brain rush from a flurry of likes, is definitely addictive. As is the competitive streak that it brings out in people—we all like to win, and she who scores the highest on Klout wins, right? I wonder if some day future generations will look back on this time and wonder what purpose all the competition and judgment and approval-seeking serves.
But there is a flip side: Do thoughts/experiences/places fade from memory if we don’t record them? I’m in the midst of a fairly massive personal project that entails looking through dozens of slide carousels (remember those?) of family photos dating from the late 1950s to the 1970s (so far, anyway—they may edge into the ‘80s by the time I get to the end), with the idea of pulling out the keepers to transfer to a digital format. There’s a shot of me wearing a pastel dress with the Dimensions singing group from 8th grade, and my sister’s floor-ex routine at a gymnastic meet, and so many other small moments in time that I had totally forgotten ever existed. I loved that sweater! Whatever happened to that kid in the next bunk at camp? Was Henry the Hound dog, so huge in memory, really that small? So many little memory jogs are hidden in each carousel that it’s just fascinating.
But there are so many other things that were not recorded, things that are so vivid in memory that I can transport myself back in an instant. Like the unique canvas/wood/foam smell of the tent trailer on our family’s numerous camping trips, endless games of cards on rainy days, Scooter the Scottie going on labor strikes during walks, making homes in tree hollows for imaginary tiny people to live in while going on hikes with my Dad—no photos of any of it, but it lives on vibrantly in my head.
And I watch my nieces document what seems like every second of their children’s lives on Facebook and wonder if someday those poor kids will have to plow through all of that to transfer it to whatever the next display format will be. Will the sheer volume just shut down the desire to look at it? When every moment is special enough to document, is any of it really special? At least in my day, film was expensive so the photo ops were much more limited than they are now. And there was a stretch from my late teens through my late twenties where I didn’t seem to take hardly any pics at all—I was way more interested in living than recording life during that period, apparently. But I do wish I had some photos of that time…
So what’s the point of all this ruminating, you may ask? Excellent question! I’m not really sure. Other than I do think that sometimes we should put down the phone and just be. Let a moment pass without attaching any weight or judgment to it, without seeking anyone else’s opinion or approval. To live face to face with the world, without the buffer of a lens or the need for validation.
The unexamined life may not be worth living, as Socrates said, but as a society we perhaps could do a little less onscreen examining/documenting/judging and a little more living off-screen.