It was during my son’s third grade music concert that I first noticed that technology was becoming more of a hindrance than a help to me.
My husband wasn’t able to attend the concert, and I had been trying for what seemed like ages to set up the video on my smartphone so that I could record it for him. The music was about to start, and I was desperately searching for the zoom button while holding the phone above my head (and the sea of heads in front of me), trying to get a clear view of Hunter. I fumbled and nearly dropped the phone on top of the woman sitting in front of me.
Exasperated, I forfeited my seat to stand at the back of the auditorium—farther away, but at least I had an unobstructed view of the stage.
…And I got two minutes of decent video before the battery died.
I’d forgotten to charge my phone. I spent the rest of the forty-minute concert standing—tired, exasperated and close to tears. Here was a moment in my son’s life that I would never be able to experience again.
I wasn’t, by any means, the only parent trying to capture something that night. Many had smartphones, digital cameras and a few had iPads. The auditorium was aglow with technology, with parents’ faces illuminated by the light of their viewscreens as they watched their children sing.
Why was it so hard for me to let go of my ability to record this experience? Fear, I suppose. Fear of forgetting. Fear that my memories wouldn’t be enough.
But when I feel that way, I’m not giving my mind enough credit. My brain doesn’t need to be plugged into an outlet to recharge, and there are no zoom or flash buttons to fiddle with. It works quite simply and efficiently (at this stage of my life, anyway).
It started me thinking: what does a camera have that we don’t? Our brain is capable of storing an infinite amount of information, images, memories—and yes, sometimes the details become fuzzy, a particular incident somewhat unclear, and I imagine there are instances in life where you’d want the camera’s unbiased eye to capture something.
Yet a photographic view isn’t everything. How many events had I recorded in my life? Many. But—I’ll be honest here—I’ve never really gone back to view them. They are stored on my computer’s hard drive—thousands of pictures, hundreds of short videos, but I either don’t have the time or the inclination to look at them.
So far, it’s been enough that I remember my wedding day. I remember Hunter’s birth. I remember that whale watch we went on a few years ago, the humpbacks breaching out of the water, the blue of the sea reflected in my son’s eyes—and I remember that moment afterward when my five-year-old turned to me and said “Isn’t the sea beautiful?”
I remember how I felt when he said that.
Those things I can’t forget. I see them through the—imperfect, yes, but no less truthful—lens of my mind.
I think photos, videos, cameras and tablets all have their place. But when that technology failed me at Hunter’s concert, I found myself, with each passing moment, feeling thankful that I didn’t have my phone in front of my face. I could look up at the stage and at my son, who was singing his heart out.
My mind was not only capturing what my eyes were seeing, but was creating a connection between the two of us, something a camera couldn’t do. Here was a boy I loved, and here was I really, truly seeing him; that connection, unhindered by a viewscreen, was transmitted freely across the room, from me to him and back again.
In that moment, our lives became enriched. I was present for my son. I like to believe that when he looked out in the audience and saw me—my eyes not on a viewfinder but on him—his heart was encouraged.
And I had to ask myself, did it really matter that I wouldn’t have any pictures or video?
In trying to preserve the moment for posterity, was I sacrificing the moment itself?
If I’d had a camera or an iPad (and how does that not feel like holding a small television in front of one’s face for the entire time?), and if my phone’s battery hadn’t died on me, I would have been distracted. I would have been watching, yes—but I would not have been present.
In a few years, I won’t remember exactly what songs Hunter sang. And my husband, who couldn’t be there, will only have my words to go by. But my words will be richer and more intimate than a recording could ever be, better than pixels and charged particles.
I will recall how joyful my son looked on stage.
I will remember how my heart swelled with pride as I was swept up in the moment—a parent observing the sweetness of a child, unobstructed.
Dejah Beauchamp has had a love of words ever since she read Alice In Wonderland as a child. In addition to raising her son, she makes time to nurture her love for kundalini yoga, reading and, of course, writing. You can often find her in the kitchen, trying out new recipes, or outside at night, stargazing. She lives in New England with her husband, son and a cat named Oona, but dreams of sunnier climes.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise