Living life in the moment vs. recording it

The NPR cosmos & culture blog recently published a short piece from Marcelo Gleiser about how we live our life. Specifically, the battle between living in the moment vs. recording that life. You know what that means: people who choose to whip out their smartphone or iPads when something momentous occurs, rather than simply live that moment as it happens to them.

This is something I think about a lot. As much as I’m somewhat addicted to checking Facebook on my phone during the day (it’s the “mental brain break” I allow myself when all the words start running together), I oftentimes find myself worrying about how I use that little device. How it interrupts, and influences, the way I live my life. How it changes how we, and others, interact with the world. How it simply messes with the “state of being” and self-awareness that we should all be striving for, but so often overlook.

For a short time, I didn’t have a smartphone. Before I got my free iPhone 4S, thanks to J buying the iPhone 5 last year, I just had a regular phone. The kind that could text, and make calls. That’s it. I told myself that I didn’t need an iPhone or whatever. The reality was that I didn’t want to spring for a new phone before J got his upgrade, and I was earning a fraction of what I was making before due to the whole being-in-grad-school thing. Finances were the real reason, and yet I justified this decision to myself as a deliberate decision to break free of the smartphone temptation, a decision to not be tied to a device 24/7, a decision to live more in the moment.

And you know what, I did live more in the moment during that time. I started carrying a book in my purse (a real book, by the way) to entertain me during the random moments of downtime most people would spend on their phones. When sitting in public places, I started to look at the people around me, and observe what was happening. I read other things, like signs, and the magazines at the dentist offices. I hummed to myself. I zoned out and thought about nothing in particular.

And I didn’t die. I never felt too much “out of the loop”, except for (strangely enough) communications from my roller derby team, who uses a Facebook group to share information. But for everything else, I had my computer, and I checked up on things periodically – email, Facebook, the blogs I read – and then returned to my day.

Now I can’t say I experienced any kind of enlightenment – moments where I was struck with the realization that “Hey! I’m living in the moment!” But it was happening all the time, and while I didn’t feel like life was different from my iPhone era, I also felt like everything was different.

Even now that I have an iPhone again, I still don’t understand the need to, as Gleiser describes it, record every momentous moment in our lives. I’ve been hot and cold on Twitter over the years, and now I’m close to deleting my account if only because I’ve finally grown tired, and bored, with the idea of sharing all my stupid, random, thoughts with the world. Who really cares, anyway? Instagram is fun if only to make your photos look cooler, but I’ve cooled down on that as well now that I don’t have much to photograph anymore. No one needs to see another #catsofInstagram pic anyway. I’m not going to post a video of myself – ever, if possible. And everything else? Eh.

J and I experienced this a lot while honeymooning in Europe. We left our smartphones at home for that trip, and while a friend gave us an international phone for emergencies, we never ended up buying a phone card for it, and ended up going the entire two-week trip completely phone-less. Let that sink in: we visited two foreign countries for the very first time – countries where they spoke different languages! – without a phone. We had an iPad that we would use at the hotel at night to look up information and Skype with our parents. But the day-to-day was completely technology free. J had his nice camera with him most days, and that’s how we took pictures. Everything else – including the days we left the camera at the hotel – we just took in.

So, while all the other tourists were jostling each other to better position their iPad in the Louvre, we simply strolled by the Mona Lisa, observed it, and then moved on. We snapped a few photos in front of the Eiffel Tower, but spent most of our time lounging on the lawn, talking, and eating pastries. When a light came on in our German rental car, we did have a minor freak-out, but then collected ourselves enough to find a VW dealership and, using our German-English dictionary, ask for help. We then received that help, for free, from a very friendly German mechanic who seemed happy to see we weren’t conducting this transaction behind our phones.

And so, back to Gleiser’s piece. It struck me. It made me think. It made me think of all the amazing experiences I’ve had during the smartphone era – experiences where there was nary a phone in sight. Sitting on the dock and watching the full moon’s yellow reflection in Long Lake, during our Traverse City trip. Did we have a phone? No. Would a selfie, or a Facebook post, or a Tweet, have cheapened that experience? You bet.

Read Should We Live Life, Or Capture It? at NPR.

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