I read an article recently lamenting the Digital Era. We’re all too connected, it said. We’re on our devices so much that we don’t have time to really live in the moment. We see a pretty sunset, or a cute exchange happening between our kids, and we whip out our smartphones to witness the moment behind a tiny lens, instead of just looking at it and appreciating it in the moment itself.
In many ways, I agree with those sentiments. I keep my phone on me at all times and one of my kids’ favorite games is “Where’s mama’s phone?” They like to hide it in obscure locations, like at the bottom of the very fragile antique floor urn that sits in the corner of the living room or deep within the folding seat of my son’s plastic bicycle. They laugh themselves silly while I look frantically for it, only to pull it out of thin air and exclaim “Here’s mama’s favorite toy!”
Does that sting just a little? Sure. I start every day by telling myself I’m going to do better. I put the phone in my designated Phone Drawer beside the bed and I don’t glance at it until I’ve fed them a solid breakfast. I resist the urge to spring to it as soon as I hear that familiar ding and I’ve taken to leaving it on silent mode for a majority of the day so I’m less distracted by it. Still, if you see me on the playground looking down, I’m probably indulging in a little online retail therapy, checking to see what my best friend from elementary school is up to now, or scrolling through the 12,463 photos I have on my phone (real number).
That same article went on to say that our parents never did anything of the sort. They were all hands-on, all the time and wouldn’t have dreamed of dropping everything to go grab their camera each time we did something cute or silly. Things were so much easier back then and parents these days just don’t understand the sentiment behind living a simple, disconnected life away from the allure of a screen. While I agree that my own mama never did half of the things I do now, I don’t think it’s because she didn’t want to or deliberately chose not to.
I think it’s because she couldn’t.
Camera phones were invented in the year 2000, and even then, they were clunky. The first cell phone camera was on a Japanese device called a J-Phone that resembled a house phone, and you had to hook it up to a computer to access your photos. So no, back when my mama was raising me in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she didn’t have access to anything like we’re using today. She had a classic, old-fashioned Canon camera that she’d inherited from my grandfather. It hung on a tortoise-shell strap that she wore around her neck. No, she wasn’t pulling out a sleek device the size of her palm and sticking it in my face every five seconds to capture my best light, but I have many memories of that huge camera swinging from her neck at every big family occasion.
I wholeheartedly believe that if smartphones, with their portrait mode settings, filters and cropping features would have been around when my mama was in her young mother season of life, she would have used them in all their glory. There would probably be tons more pictures of me as a child, actually! I’d have seen what it was like to be her at age 28, walking me around our little yard out in the country, feet away from the tiny white house she brought me home to. I’d have more footage of my dad before his mustache really took off, playing with me and our little tabby cat, Ethel. I’d have seen more clearly what I looked like out in the snow, decked out in my bibs and boots and too-big toboggan. If she would have used the video feature, I may have heard what I sounded like, too. Instead, I’m left piecing the fragments together with pictures of me blowing out birthday candles and opening up Christmas presents—you know, the big stuff that parents usually make it a point to document.
So maybe I’m a little snap happy. Maybe I have my eyes on a tiny screen a little too much and not enough on my tiny humans. But I’m capturing these moments now, while we’re all still young and tech-savvy, so when that day comes that I’m no longer as agile behind that tiny keyboard, I’ll have plenty of memories to look back on. I’ll see that day my kids dressed up as a pirate and first mate for Halloween, or hear my daughter count to 10 for the very first time.