The other day, on a walk in Seattle’s wildest, most beautiful park, I saw some truly spectacular trees. Momentarily, I wished I had my camera—then was immediately relieved that I didn’t. I ended up meandering through leafy woods and sun-dappled meadows as my dog bounded ahead, absorbed in the sights, sounds, and smells of a perfect summer afternoon. When I felt sleepy, I found a clearing and lay down on a soft bed of moss, watching an eagle circle above. I was entirely present, alive to the beauty that surrounded me, unconcerned by any attempt to capture such a fleeting, ephemeral experience.
The next day, I was on a mission to photograph myself showcasing my pregnant belly in a crop top, so I had my camera with me. As I ate breakfast at a ridiculously charming café, I was compelled to photograph my pastry, my coffee, my dog eating scraps of bacon from a benevolent stranger’s plate. The surrounding neighborhood was so thoroughly picturesque that I had to take pictures of some of the houses, too. And then, of course, there were the trees in the park, the cute dogs, my new (awful!) haircut.
A mild sense of anxiety attended the urgency I felt in documenting my morning. I found myself distracted, caught up in preserving the moment, rather than simply existing in it. Therein lies my ambivalence towards the smartphone: I worry about what it would be like if I had a tiny, ultra-portable camera (let alone the entire Internet!) in my pocket at all times.
For the record: I’m not a Luddite. I’m fascinated by the ways in which people co-evolve with novel technologies, and I believe that the drive towards innovation is a defining feature of our species. I know that handwringing about new technologies started as soon as the first primitive human bashed together two chunks of rock to make fire. And I certainly don’t feel any sense of superiority over people (my family, friends and partner included) who have smartphones. I’m aware that I’m an outlier, and, while I do take a certain crusty pride in stubbornly clinging to an obsolete technology, I know that it doesn’t make me cool, or a rebel, or morally superior. I’m simply delaying the inevitable.
The fact is, I’m afraid: I want to experience my life firsthand, and I’m worried that if I had a camera/computer/phone that I carried with me at all times, I’d be so preoccupied with documenting and sharing my experience that I’d be unable to be truly present.
I’m not saying that finding balance isn’t possible—I believe that it is. Nor am I implying that people with smartphones aren’t living in the moment—that’s not for me to determine. And yet… it does give me the creeps to see people sitting across from one another at a restaurant, each totally absorbed by the screen in front of them, hardly exchanging a word for the entire meal. It drives me bonkers when I’m prevented from digging into my food because someone insists on photographing it first. And I resent being accosted with YouTube videos and news articles and Facebook posts while at the beach, on a walk, or having coffee with friends. I cherish my time away from the Internet, free from email, time-sucking blogs, and the instantaneous answers provided by Google.
Whether I’m out in nature, or immersed in the bustle of the city, there are so many things I’d miss out on if I was staring at my phone. I understand that smartphones are a valuable tool, an amazing resource, even a potential force for social justice. I don’t judge people who have them (aka pretty much everyone): I’m just concerned about what my life would look like if I had one.
I’m sure I’ll get a smartphone eventually—us late adopters are renowned for skipping the initial, crappier iterations of a new technology and getting the really cool shit when we finally catch up to the rest of the world—but for now, I’m content with my primitive phone-that’s-just-a-phone.
Incidentally: My phone has been dropped, accidentally flung across the pavement, and washed in the washing machine—and the damn thing still works.