Making fun of this summer’s Olympics opening ceremony has become as much of a traditionÂ as the lighting of the torch. Weâ€™ve heard the jokes about the creepy baby, the field of hospital beds, the inexplicably multiplied Mary Poppins thwarting of Voldemort (what?), but what struck me as the most bizarre of all is the American athletes using their cell phones as they entered the stadium.Â I mean â€¦ really? Did they think it wasnâ€™t being filmed?
My brotherâ€™s wife gave birth to twins this weekend (so afraid to even type that sentence because I might go off on a tangent of squeals about how freaking cute those guys are!), and her sister took photo after photo of the babies, posing them and Steven and Lisa over and over again. When I saw her, she began to show me the pictures, saying, of course, â€śLook how cute they are hereâ€ť and â€śLook at them here.â€ť And I kept thinking, I am looking at them, here. I realized I hadnâ€™t taken one photo; I had been too busy snorting the smell coming off the babiesâ€™ heads.
This incessant smartphone photo-snapping and video-ing is taking away from real-time experience, and Iâ€™ve got science behind me. When we are in an experience, every sense we engage involves a neural pathway. Every neural pathway we engage triggers deeper, richer memory when we attempt to remember the experience. Maybe Iâ€™m wrong, but Iâ€™m thinking that itâ€™s harder to engage the senses when weâ€™re holding our devices with one of our hands and looking at the world through it, as well as looking at its screen half the time. The device that weâ€™re using to keep the memory is standing in the way of making the memory. The suggestion to â€śbe in the momentâ€ť is nothing new, but now if youâ€™re having trouble, thereâ€™s an app for that.
I love my phone, but Iâ€™ve misused it too, of course. This year, at the 4thÂ of July fireworks, my own attempts at getting a good shot to use as a screensaver pretty much took over the whole event. â€śIs this the finale? â€śIs this the finale?â€ť â€śI didnâ€™t get a good shot yet! I hope this isnâ€™t the finale!â€ť
Weâ€™ve all seen how children now react when we take their picture. They only know a life with digital cameras, and so they accost us, immediately after the shot, running up and saying, â€śLet me see!â€ť Affirmation (â€śThere I am! There I am.â€ť) and instant gratification come easily.
Roles often get confused, too, as often we are watching someone watch something: â€śHere I am at the concert, the football game.â€ť So we view the viewer or, in the case of the Olympic athlete parade, we watch them watch us watching them. What?
My lovely sister-in-law (mother of those ridiculously cute twin boys!) is glad her sister took those pictures, because she herself was just too overwhelmed by the babies themselves to do so. Iâ€™m sure the experience of the athletesâ€™ entrance into the stadium will stick with them, but Iâ€™m betting it would have even if they didnâ€™t take the photos of the stands and each other.
One of my students once (facetiously) said, â€śYou know we donâ€™t believe it unless we see it on FB,â€ť and Iâ€™m thinking weâ€™re all moving into perceiving our lives along those linesâ€”an experience isnâ€™t lived unless itâ€™s livestreamed.