The other morning as the sun was rising, I took my dog out to do his business and I spotted 3 deer grazing at the edge of our back yard. They looked so peaceful, shrouded in some light morning mist. I saw them before my dog did, so the moment lasted long enough for me to start fumbling for my phone in order to snap a picture. I was disappointed when I realized I didn’t have the phone on me, but then it dawned on me that I was actually enjoying a beautiful scene in real life instead of through the lens of my iPhone. Why couldn’t I just enjoy it without feeling the need to document it?
We old folk often complain about our millennial children being too obsessed with living their life via social media — and believe me, they are. My son is so stealthy with his phone that I rarely notice when he is snapping and chatting, which is, I’ve come to realize, practically every waking moment. I recall a couple of years ago being in a drive-thru line with him and spotting in my rear view mirror the mother of one of his friends. I mentioned that Mrs. So & So was in the car behind us, and he immediately whipped out his phone and snapped a picture through the back window. I asked what the heck he was doing, and he said, “Mom, my friends ALWAYS sneak a pic and send me a Snapchat of you when they see you in public. They do it because they think you’re cool.” I was a little freaked out but also, admittedly, a little bit flattered. Because I know that Mrs. So & So in the car behind me really is cool. I also know for sure that I am not cool. My son knows I’m not cool. But he has managed to portray an image of me as being cool through his stealthily obtained Snapchat stories. Who am I to object?
Fast forward a couple of years… This same son is now 21 years old and in college. One evening my husband and I were out with some friends having dinner a few blocks away from his apartment. I knew he had big plans to go out that night so I jokingly sent him a text saying we were planning to meet up with him wherever he was. He immediately texted me back and said he’d love to meet us — so when I replied that we were just kidding, he called me. Seems he really, really wanted us to meet up with him. I thought this was really sweet until he said, “It would be so funny if I could get a picture of me hanging out with you and the other parents.” In other words — it’s not about the experience of hanging out with Mom & Dad, it’s about getting a Snapchattable photo of the experience.
It would be easy for us to condemn this behavior and believe that this is a problem exclusive to the younger generation. But the fact is, many of us adults are not much better. I’m thinking about the moms on Facebook who post about every mundane thing their kid is doing: A selfie of Suzy & Mom in the car, heading out for the biannual dentist appointment… A pic of Suzy in the waiting room at the dentist’s office… A pic of Suzy smiling with the dentist: “Perfect patient! No cavities! So proud!”… A pic of the post-checkup milkshake stop on the way home… I often wonder: when Suzy looks back on her childhood someday, will she be able to recall any image of her mother NOT holding an iPhone in front of her face?
I’m not really judging Suzy’s mom, though, because I get it! There are a lot of reasons for a person of any age to become hooked on doing this kind of posting on social media. There is an actual scientific explanation for how we can become addicted to the “likes” we get from posting. It has to do with the unpredictability (“Will anyone like my photo? How many likes will it get?”) leading to a “high” whenever we are validated with a “like” or a “comment.”
Also, the rise of social media is still relatively new for us adults, and maybe the novelty just hasn’t worn off yet. I was trying to come up with an equivalent experience we might have had while coming of age in the 80s. I can’t think of anything that even remotely compares. We “texted” via paper notes written in ink or pencil on tablet paper, folded into the shape of triangles or squares and passed to the recipient by hand in between classes. We “snapped” 24 photos per roll of film, then sent them off in a yellow envelope via snail mail to be developed and returned — never knowing how or if they turned out until that package arrived 2 weeks later. We “chatted” after school via a landline, our calls often being screened by our friend’s mom or dad. We “shared” wallet-size school photos with each other, writing terms of endearment on the back.
So this brave new world of being able to instantly share photos of every aspect of our lives with anyone we want to is really a crazy new(ish) concept for us–and it can be FUN. Of course, it can also be a whole lot of other things that are not so fun, now that anyone and everyone has the ability to share political rants, and to cyberbully others, and to risk identity theft by oversharing information with strangers, etc., but those and other inherent dangers are subjects for a whole ‘nother post–or even a book. Today, I’m choosing to focus on the loss of being in the zen-like NOW.
One of my yoga instructors likes to say, “The only truth is what’s happening RIGHT NOW.” Despite the fact that Charles Manson also apparently liked to say the same kind of thing, this always resonates with me. I often need that little reminder to embrace exactly what is happening right now instead of obsessing about the past or the future– and instead of focusing on documenting the now for a future “like” on Instagram.
I’m not here to say I’m giving up posting on Facebook, or that I don’t enjoy seeing photos of everyone else’s pets, kids, trips, food, and fun–I do! And I’m not here to say that our kids’ generation is doomed because so much of their socializing is done via social media. I’m just hoping to remind myself–and maybe you, too–to try to put a little more effort into enjoying exactly what is happening around us right now, without feeling the need to post about it. When we put down our phones and just have fun with no expectations of having to show off what a great time we are having — there is a shift in the way we experience whatever we’re doing. When the voice in our head changes from “I’ve got to post about this,” to “Wow, isn’t this great?,” we actually feel happier! A happier “now” leads to happy memories, which lead to happy feelings about the future, and all of that leads to a happier life.
So if you’re reading this, I’m going to encourage you to put down your phone and enjoy yourself and your “now” at least once today. But before you do–could you please “like” my post?