A momentous event
I’d like to tell you a story about my wife, myself, and our kids.
My wife and I live about 5 minutes walk from a beautiful beach in Coogee. We spend lots of our warm weekend days here, and back in 2004, I married Belinda on this very beach. It holds a special place in our heart, as it’s where we’ve lived since our daughter was only 6 weeks old.
Something extraordinary has happened since we moved here. I’m not talking about the growth of my daughter, the evolution of our business, or the birth of my son. I’m not even talking about how many years my wife and I have been married.
No, I’m talking about the 29th June, 2007. The date the first iPhone was released.
A seemingly small event in the world of technology, but one that has snowballed and literally changed the world. As a direct result, the majority of western society now live in a world of portable glowing rectangles, that accompany us everywhere, and continually promise us a new, exciting world of being endlessly connected to our friends, digital media, and “the world’s information”. Smartphones and tablets are willing and able to deliver distraction and procrastination at any hour of the day or night, no matter where we are.
It took until February 2010 for me to get my first iPhone. The ability to shoot decent pictures, send and receive emails, browse the Internet, and have my whole music collection in my pocket, all from the one device, was an instant revelation. I thought I had reached technology Nirvana, and I loved it.
My wife now carries an iPhone 5, I rock an old, beat-up iPhone 4S, and we carry them everywhere we go. I use mine for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, email, news, weather apps, podcasts, music, taking photos, recording video, my alarm clock, a portable audio recorder, and a remote clicker for presentations.
Trouble is, my wife and I found ourselves looking at our phones all the time.
Fear of missing out
I work as a photographer, so I’m less inclined to take thousands of photos of my kids when I’m not working. My wife however, armed with her new iPhone, quickly developed a habit of taking photos of our kids constantly. Every little thing they did, every smile, every event was photographed. In itself, this sounds harmless enough, but there are a few dangerous side-effects of this behaviour we’ve since learned:
1) Every time you look at your phone instead of your child, you are disconnected from them. You are missing an opportunity to interact, and build actual memories with them.
2) You are probably never going to look at those photos again. Or realistically, you might try to look at them, but will be so utterly overwhelmed by the volume of images, that you won’t be able to process or enjoy any of them very much.
3) This behaviour perpetuates the undercurrent of “fear of missing out” (now referred to as FOMO by many psychologists and media outlets). We’re so afraid of missing moments with our kids that we try to preserve them forever on our phones – and end up missing out because we’re looking at the phone, and not our kids.
As we’ve become so distracted by the constant interactions with the online world, I believe we’ve lost much of our ability to be present, and simply be with the people in our lives. We can’t slow down, and worse, we can’t prioritise what is actually important and valuable, so we end up chasing our tails, trying to capture everything because we’re so disconnected and frantic in our distractedness.
By trying to photograph everything “for posterity”, we didn’t realise at the time that we were actually disconnecting more.
A day at the beach
My wife and I have had many discussions about this behaviour, usually started by me chastising her for “living her life through the viewfinder”. I’ve been equally as guilty, but I guess her behaviour of taking endless photos of our kids is more obvious to me as a photographer, than my own habit of “just checking my status updates”.
Just last week Belinda was at Coogee beach playing with our kids in the water. She had a great time, splashing Rilien and Indrani, cuddling them and whooshing them through the waves. Our kids absolutely loved it too – they had their Mum giving them her full attention, laughing and playing with them, and letting them know that they were the centre of her Universe in that moment.
At one point, Belinda noticed another mother on the water’s edge, staring intently at her smartphone as she tried to capture the perfect moment of her child with her smartphone camera. What Belinda also noticed was the child looking oddly at the back of the phone where her Mum’s face should have been, and the gap between the mother and her child, while Mum tried in vain to “get the shot”.
In future years, what do you think that child will value more: a photo of herself playing in the water on her own, or the memory of laughing and playing in the water with her Mum?
I am not trying to say that taking photos of your kids is evil. I work exclusively as a family photographer, so I clearly believe in the value of taking photos of families and kids.
What I’m trying to say is this: Be aware of the opportunity cost of living your life through your viewfinder.
For each moment you’re checking your phone, scanning social media, or trying to take a photo or video of your kids, you are DISCONNECTED from the people you love the most. How many moments are you willing to not be present in, for the sake of a photo you might never look at again?
Is the photo you’re taking really that important, or are you caught in a loop of distraction-driven FOMO?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Drop me a line in the comments below, and let me know what you think.
This article was inspired by a few sources, but most notably by Rachel Macy Stafford, who writes a blog called Hands Free Mama. Belinda and I LOVE her work. Check it out. xo