Imagine you’re at a concert where your favorite band is playing for the last time. Or you’re watching President Obama get sworn into office. Or maybe you’re just sitting around with your family under the Christmas tree watching your children open gifts. What are you doing in all those scenarios? If you’re like most people today, you’re probably recording it with some sort of technological gadgetry, be it a smartphone, digital camera, or camcorder. You might also be sharing the moment with others across the web via Twitter, Facebook, or FriendFeed.
Our Recorded Lives
Thanks to technology, we never have to forget any experience of our lives. We can snap photos, annotate them, and share them with others instantly. We can archive them to the timeless web for posterity. And maybe one day, our great-great-grandkids can pursue our social network profiles in the cached pages of Internet Archive and learn everything we ever wanted the world to know about us.
And yes, that’s great. It’s amazing, really. But what about us and the lifetime we spent recording these things? Did we waste our lives documenting them and forget to live?
A great example of people missing the moment
With technology having progressed to the point where it’s nearly effortless to use, we’ve begun to integrate it into our lives in ways that have never been done before. No longer is the computer this appliance that connects you to a web of slow-loading pages. No, today’s web – our global brain – is pocket-sized and accessible from anywhere.*
Photos (and now videos) can immediately be published from device to web thanks to ingenious creations like Eye-Fi’s wireless SD card, a technology that makes our real life just another feed of content for the ubiquitous pages of the ever-expanding web. A web whose very creation may represent humanity’s attempt to understand the concept of our universe. For how will tomorrow’s web be described? It’s a entity that has no beginning** and no end; it’s an ever-expanding repository for all (digital) life.
Forgetting to Live
As we progress through our short span here on this planet, living our lives and documenting them along the way, we may be forgetting…for moments at least…how to actually live. And living, like it or not, means that sometimes we need to disconnect, put the camera down, and enjoy a moment for once.
Jane Maynard of Silicon Valley Moms reminds us that this is now a common issue for everyone, not just technophiles. As she writes about watching her children perform at a concert, she describes the problem: “Cameras. I actually struggle a bit with this issue myself. In an attempt to document the wonderful things happening, sometimes life itself gets missed. You know, like watching your child’s piano recital through a video camera viewfinder rather than with your own eyes. It’s a tricky balance I’m sure we all think about and deal with, especially in this digital age. I make myself put my camera away sometimes, no matter how badly I want to record something, so I can live in the moment as it happens. I never regret those times…[but] these observations gave me pause. How often am I so focused on the perfect shot with my kids that I miss the moment?”
When Should You Disconnect?
The fine line between what’s worth documenting and what’s not is a hard one to define. We immediately assume that the most important, the biggest, the most incredible moments are those that should be recorded. But it’s these very moments that are best to experience live, with our full focus.
As religious-focused blogger Martin Kelley notes, “there are times where our presence is much more important than any documentation.” (He had just surprised himself by reviewing the grainy, blurry photos he felt it necessary to take while watching a bride walk down the aisle. In retrospect, this was exactly the kind of moment that could have gone unrecorded.)
“Stop trying to live your own life vicariously. You’re already there. You don’t need to prove anything,” says Kat Orphanides, while watching people recording a band’s show instead of enjoying the music. In reality, it’s easier said than done. But if you’ve ever felt a twinge of tech-induced guilt when you unplug from the web (how can I not Twitter what I just saw? Ooh, I need to take a picture of this!), then you’re bordering on having merged completely with the machine. Maybe it’s time to remind yourself that it’s OK to just live – well, at least sometimes. You may not have proof of everything you experienced in your amazing life, but that life might be a more fulfilling one in the end.
* Obviously, these statements refer to the parts of the world where modern technology like smartphones and broadband are common. The entire world does not have access to these things. I know.
** The very first web page is here, but it’s only designated as a “web” page because it is hyperlinked to other pages using HTML markup. So was it really the first? Or did it spring into existence at the same time as the others? Is it really the beginning of the web?