In 40 years when I’m looking through my albums, I don’t want to only remember the spectacular, beautiful days. I want to remember my life. My unadulterated, un-photoshopped, unfiltered life
he Chofetz Chaim said that the first sound recording device was invented so the generation would better understand the teaching that all our deeds are marked in a book. So does the ubiquity of digital video and voice recorders mean our generation needs that message made even plainer?
The smartphone culture instills in us a need to document everything in our lives. Every event, no matter how big or small — every outfit, three-dollar coffee, cute face our kid makes — needs to be captured. We’re ready to pose on cue, we’re “on” at every moment, and we frame our lives through the five-inch screen.
Here’s the reality: our lives are mostly mediocre. Most days I look okay. Not like I just rolled out of bed, but not glowing either. Most of the time my kids look fine. Not adorable or gorgeous, just fine (sorry, kids). Most of their clothes are from Target, not the trendy boutique store. We’re usually having a fine time. We’re laughing and crying and kvetching, I’m kissing and yelling and telling them to go away so I can drink my coffee in peace.
But I’d never share a picture of me in a snood and dirty skirt along with my child and her runny nose. I’ll wait until we’re on our way to a wedding. No point in me taking a picture of my child sipping water from a plastic cup, but you can be sure the berry smoothie gets a snap. But in 40 years when I’m looking through my albums, I don’t want to only remember the spectacular, beautiful days. I want to remember my life. My unadulterated, un-photoshopped, unfiltered life.
There are times when we literally produce a fictional narrative of an actual event by carefully choosing which shots to take. There are times we miss an episode completely because we’re so caught up in the need for the picture. There are times we’re flat-out mean and bossy and manipulative while begging, bribing, and barking at those around us to “come here under this tree where the lighting is good and just smile normally already!”
By the time a child is five, she usually has her duck lips perfected. By the time that child is 12, she knows which is her best side. And by the time high school comes, she knows how to bend her knee, put her hand on her hip, and tilt her head just so — after all, she’s been modeling for photo shoots since she was born.
What are the effects of our picture-taking obsession? When “selfie” is the word of the year, as it was back in 2013, what does that say about our emphasis on appearances?
Can you try to relax through your next great photo op, and just enjoy the moment without snapping a picture?
Can you pose by smiling straight at the camera instead of hiding behind a contorted face?
Can you refuse to snap a picture of your children if they have their tongues hanging out, or their bodies suggestively posing? Can you try to verbalize to them, and to yourself, where these behaviors originated?
Dina, age 16
I was out with my Jewish Education Program (JEP) kids at an amusement park the other day. As I ran around with them and tried to give them all a good time (which was hard because they’re little and there are a lot of them), I remembered my trip with my friends to a similar amusement park a few weeks ago. The contrast was shocking. When I was with my JEP kids, we were just having fun and living in the moment; when I was out with my friends, we were taking pictures and videos most of the time.
I starting wondering why we do that. Why do I take tons of pictures when I’m out with friends, but not when I’m with my family or volunteering at JEP? I value the memories of my family and JEP as much as those of time I spend with my friends.
Am I one of those kids who takes pictures just to post them and show everybody I have a busy social life?
Mazal, age 16
My three-year-old niece was at our house, and when I pulled out my phone to take a picture of her, she automatically sucked in her cheeks and made peace signs with her hands. We all cracked up. She just thought that’s what you’re supposed to do for a picture, like saying “cheese.”
But it was also a little sad. I don’t even know why, but part of me felt it shouldn’t be that way. She’s too young for that.
Ilana, age 26
You know who I really feel bad for? Kids in high school. I can’t imagine going through the social pressures and anxieties of high school while seeing and comparing myself to so many other teens on social media. I think that probably would have crushed my confidence and held me back from so much growth, and so much real fun. Instead I would’ve acted out “fun” for the sake of posting it online.
Of all the detriments with the smartphone culture, I think that’s one of the biggest losses. You finally put the phone down and interact with friends and family, then just pick it up again to record the fun so all the world can see? We should be better than that.
Sara, age 26
Today I took my friend’s baby to the nearby playground. I left my phone at home, not as a matter of principle, but because it needed to be charged.
Kindergarten had just let out and the park was slowly filling with children. Their parents sat on benches around the perimeter of the playground while the kids played.
I sat with the baby in the warm shade. She lay on a blanket and watched the kids playing, clearly fascinated. I kept a wary eye out for the dogs that kept venturing too close, and the spider — which was probably harmless, but I didn’t know enough about the local poisonous species to be sure.
It was fun sitting with her. Without my phone, I felt less distracted, less… anxious? Harried? I’m not sure. It felt like my thoughts slowed down, wandered peacefully. She was very cute. The air smelled nice. The dog had been shaved for the summer and looked totally ridiculous.
All the parents were on their phones.
A child said, “Look, Abba, look! I’m jumping! I did a big jump!” But he was on his phone.
She went over to him. “Abba, look, look!”
“Okay, all right, I’m looking,” he said. She jumped.
Is it the phones that distract parents? If he didn’t have the phone, would he have been distracted anyway, become absorbed in conversation with someone?
The truth is that sometimes it’s boring to watch your kids jump over and over. How many times can you cheer a kindergartener as he jumps off a little horse on the playground?
But what’s hard for me to determine is to what degree that boredom has actually been fostered by the Internet. The Internet is a constant force, hanging on to the edges of every moment. Whenever you’re not actively engaged in doing something that prevents you from holding your phone, the Internet fills that space.
When I put the phone away, I feel peaceful. Mostly. But only if it’s really, truly out of reach. If it’s nearby and I’m resisting it, I just feel even more restless. The difference between being in the park without a phone or with one is like the difference between Shabbos and Motzaei Shabbos. If it’s with me, I need to pick it up and check. Check what? That doesn’t matter. Check anything.
And then I look at this baby and she’s watching me. Worse, when I’m holding my phone, she’s watching the phone. That terrifies me.
Avigail, age 35
Here’s something I don’t want to think about: how my technology use is affecting my family and what type of mother it makes me.
I know I’m usually plugged in. And it’s not because I need to be. The fact is I don’t find child rearing to be all that stimulating and exciting. I know motherhood is my most important job right now, but the truth is… I just don’t like it. Don’t jump all over me, I’m actually a pretty good mother (I think), but under the cover of total anonymity I’m going to just get up here and admit that there is a very long list of things I would rather be doing than changing diapers, touching base with teachers, making doctor appointments, and going over spelling words. Not to mention menu planning, shopping, cooking, laundry, etcetera, ad nauseam.
What does all this have to do with technology? A lot. Back when my mother was raising children, the jobs she didn’t like but had to do somehow got done. Some days were better, some were worse, but she powered through.
I feel like today it’s different. I still have no choice, and do all the above activities, despite the fact that I would rather not; but the fact that I always have a complete, total escape within arm’s reach means I’m not “really there.” I guess I’m talking about the general lack of focus that technology causes, but I think it’s taking a harsher toll specifically on the mothers in this generation. If a mother is supposed to be the ikeres habayis, and half of her is here and the other half is divided among all of the apps on her phone, then isn’t the foundation of the home a bit shaky?
Does it make a difference if the laundry isn’t getting your 100% focus? If you have one eye on the pot and one eye on your phone — so what? How is that different from playing music while doing housework?
But I know the answer to that one. Music is just a background accompaniment. Your phone or laptop, on the other hand, is an entire universe and you get lost in it, and the housework or menu or whatever becomes the background noise. That’s a scary thing: My real life has become background noise to my tech use.
My children definitely lose out because of my phone. And it’s so stupid — why on earth can’t I just put my phone away for the evening to focus on my kids? So I do, but then suddenly they’re all occupied or playing nicely and I suddenly have a minute of quiet so I think, Let me just see what my friends wanted, or I’ve been so productive and giving, now I want ten minutes of downtime, and then once again I’m showing that what I’m doing on my phone is primary and my kids are just the interruption.
What kind of example am I setting for them?
Here comes the guilt. That’s kind of why I hate thinking about these things. I don’t want to accept that this is a lifelong struggle, it makes me exhausted in advance. Sometimes I think, maybe I should just get a dumb phone and I won’t have to fight this battle anymore.
But who am I kidding, that’s not happening. Ugh.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 721)
Oops! We could not locate your form.