My son and I ran a 5K this weekend. It was for a good cause, and it was fun. The weather was brisk, and we weren’t trying to break any speed records, so we enjoyed some good conversation. Overall, it was a good learning and bonding experience.
Sometime after we finished running, as we were partaking of the free snacks and other offerings, the announcer requested that everyone return to the finish line to cheer for a very special runner who was just finishing the race. The runner was a girl who had some physical/developmental challenges. She was being escorted by a full police motorcade, and had one of the biggest smiles on her face I can remember seeing. Heartwarming music was playing over the loudspeaker. It was very touching.
She was not just being escorted by the police, however. Walking behind her in a perfect row were 4 high school girls in matching black yoga pant/NHS t-shirt regalia. Each was in perfect step. Each was virtually indistinguishable from the other. And each had a smart phone held in front of her at a 90 degree angle, recording the entire experience.
I don’t fault these girls or their intentions. That teenagers voluntarily do anything is somewhat of a miracle. Still, it made me sad that rather than actively experiencing this experience, looking around and feeling what it feels like to be involved with something so memorable and significant, they were more concerned with recording it, to be “shared” and experienced later. I could almost physically picture the posts themselves: “Awesome race for, like, totally good cause: #NHShours, #5k, #pumpkinrun, #yogapants, #bestiesforlife, #likerunningandstuff, #cancersux.”
It wasn’t just these girls, either. Other people were on the side taking cell phone videos, some as “selfie” videos. Others were hard at work tweeting their experience or instagramming it or Facebooking it. Looking around, about half the people were watching and clapping, and the other half had heads bent over electronic devices, oblivious to the sunshine and beautiful day and worthwhile cause and fellow runners and everything that was not their 5.7 square inch screen.
Look around you. At work. At school. At restaurants. Driving. Running. Anywhere. 10 years ago, we would have thought we had inadvertently walked onto the set of a Twilight Zone episode, where humankind had become enslaved by strange handheld devices they were forced to carry around with them and constantly stare at and touch. Now, it’s all around us, and we don’t even question it.
Think back to some of your most memorable experiences. If you are over 20, there is a good chance that at least some of them did not involve a cell phone or recording device of any kind. I worry that we are living our lives, the most important moments of our lives, at at least one or two degrees of removal. We are so concerned with sharing and being seen and having a record of our experiences that we are missing the most important part of the experiences.
If you’re doing something fun with your kids, do something fun with your kids. If you’re doing something exciting or romantic with your significant other, do something exciting and romantic with your significant other. If you’re enjoying a gorgeous view/delicious meal/unforgettable experience, then freaking put down your stupid smart phone, and live the best moments of your life as they are happening. Great moments are few and far between. It’s okay to selfishly grab and relish those. Don’t worry about recording and embellishing and sharing. Nobody cares. They’re all too busy recording and embellishing and sharing their own “experiences.”
We are all so concerned with making sure everyone else sees how awesome and meaningful our lives are that our actual lives aren’t all that awesome or meaningful at all.
I hope my son enjoyed a fun and real experience. I hope we made some memories. Most of all, I hope he takes from this weekend the thought “this is really neat; I hope I can do something this meaningful when I am grown up” and not “man, when are my parents going to, like, get me a smart phone so I can really start living my life?”