Last Saturday my family spent the evening with some good friends.
The kind of friends where it’s perfectly acceptable to sit on the floor so you can be as close to the appetizer platter as possible, instead of on the sofa with your legs crossed and a napkin on your lap.
The kind of friends where you know that the container on the right side of the fridge is where the dog food is kept and the container on the left side of the fridge is the actual trash can.
The kind of friends who invite your parents, too, and you don’t even cringe when your dad’s quips are laced with damn and hell right there in the living room because you know for real it’s all good.
As I was sitting on the floor that evening, gobbling up the salami pretzel rolls and soaking up the comfortable conversation, I realized I rarely snap photos with my phone when we’re hanging out with these friends.
That’s actually quite noteworthy, because I typically take pictures of everything — flowers and birds and food and dogs and landscapes and people. It’s rare that a scene or an experience in my life goes undocumented, and I typically share most of these photos on Instagram and Facebook.
Strangely, though, I can’t remember the last time I snapped a picture of these friends and me and shared it on social media, even though I see them often. And I realized it’s because when I am with these friends, I’m wholly immersed in the real-life experience of being with them, rather than documenting the experience of being with them for someone else.
That night at my friends’ house I dropped olive after olive into my mouth and tasted the saltiness on my tongue. I couldn’t stop laughing when the whirling dervish cotton-ball puppy chased my son in circles, yipping and nipping at his ankles. I reached for yet another olive and listened to the conversation, full and satisfied in all the best ways.
And never once did it occur to me to pick up my phone. Even when I mused over the fact that I wasn’t picking up my phone, I didn’t pick up my phone.
It’s more than a little telling that the act of not documenting an experience was so rare, I noticed it.
“Absence isn’t going to return to us easily,” observes Michael Harris in his book, The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection. “Every technology will alienate you from some part of your life. That is its job. Your job is to notice. First notice the difference. And then, every time, choose.”
I appreciate Harris’ words, because the fact is, unless we make the radical decision to move to the Montana woods and live off the grid entirely, our lives are going to be infused with technology. There’s no avoiding it; nor, really, should we. Technology is a gift — I remember this when I click Google Maps anytime I need to drive beyond a 10-mile radius of my home. It’s okay to choose technology.
As Harris reminds me, the point is not that we shouldn’t choose technology at all, but that we should consciously make the choice, ever single time, of whether or not we will do so. Too often — and I know this is true for me — we engage with technology subconsciously, out of habit. We reach for our phone. We check our inbox and then, fifteen minutes later, we check it again. We snap a photo and then another.
Last Saturday night I did what Michael Harris suggests, something I don’t normally do: I noticed the difference between not documenting and documenting. I noticed how the simple act of leaving my phone untouched in my purse did, in fact, create the space for a richer, fuller experience.
I don’t have any photos from that lovely evening to accompany this post – nothing to document the experience, nothing that shows what we ate, what we wore, who was there. But when I think back to that evening, I remember that one of my sons ate every last strawberry on the platter. I remember the cotton-ball puppy and the candle flickering on the wall. I remember the stories that made us laugh and the warm, comfortable conversation. Most of all I remember that in that moment, I didn’t want to be anyplace else but right there.