Growing up, I was a cheerleader, played softball, sang in the school’s chorus and musical productions, went on class trips, and participated in numerous high school clubs. For all of these events and those that I have forgotten, my parents were there rooting me on, sometimes with a camera and sometimes without. Sure, I have lots of old photos documenting things like vacations, prom, birthday parties and graduation. But making memories back then relied heavily on being present. Most of my childhood memories are stored in my brain and are just for me. Whoever shared in those times with me may also have different versions of my memories. However, the memories weren’t shared with neighbors and acquaintances or people my family barely knew. Creating memories, not documenting them, was special.
The smaller moments spent with my parents included things like taking a day to walk around New York City or simply going out to dinner. When my parents were there, they paid attention to me and what I had to say, no matter how unimportant it was to them. They paid attention to what I ordered at a restaurant, made suggestions about what I should try, and made eye contact with me during our conversations. They didn’t have phones, and neither did I. Our interactions, no matter how small, were real and precious and, although I never realized it then, appreciated.
Last week, I went on a class trip to LEGOLAND with my daughter. My cell phone hasn’t been working for the last month, so by default, I left it home, along with my camera. This is the first time in a really long time that I didn’t have any technology for what I considered to be a special day with my daughter. At first, I was bummed that I couldn’t post any pictures to my Facebook page to let all of my friends and family know what a great time we were having. But as soon as she got off the bus and found me in the crowd of parents, her smile made me feel ready to tackle a technology free day.
Throughout the day, we walked hand in hand, with my other hand free of a phone or camera. We had a very long conversation about the Rainbow Fairies book series that she is currently obsessed with. We observed the LEGOLAND mini city section and got excited when we came across New York City. We went back and forth comparing all of the places that we were able to see when we went on our New York vacation this past summer. When we waited in line for the rides, we hugged, and at one point, I picked her up (because both hands were free) and I just held her. When we ate lunch together, we looked at the LEGOLAND map to trace where we had been and where we wanted to go next. We did all of this and more without sharing it with anyone else.
That got me thinking about the need for constant sharing. I think that there is a difference between people who take photos to capture the memories, and people who take photos simply to post them on Facebook to garner a “like” or a comment. I’ve seen pictures of families taken in the car on their way to wherever it is they are going, whether it be to a vacation spot, a park, or sometimes, just a trip to the gas station. I’ve seen pictures of families eating at restaurants. I’ve seen pictures from various vacation destinations. I’ve seen pictures of children playing in their rooms or yards. The list goes on and on. And I am the first to admit that I am guilty of it.
But the technology free trip to LEGOLAND may have changed that for me. It brought me back to my technology free childhood. It reminded me of those dinners with my family that were based on conversation. My parents didn’t bring their cameras every time we went to the park or went on a class trip or went out to eat dinner. In fact, there are no childhood pictures that captured me eating dinner at all. Do you know why? Because dinner and regular daily life was reserved for conversation and truly being present.
Of course, cell phones and Facebook weren’t available then. Had my parents had a cell phone, maybe things would have been different. Maybe we might never have had as many conversations with each other. Maybe I would have grown up feeling a little insecure because my life was on display to all my parents’ friends. Maybe I would have felt listened to, but not really heard. Maybe I wouldn’t really know my parents at all. Maybe I would have had a million more photos, but not too many really great memories. Or maybe it wouldn’t have made too much of a difference. But after my day with my daughter, I’ve come to my own conclusion, which is that I think oversharing can actually cause more harm than good.
After the amazing LEGOLAND trip, there are a few things I now know. I know that I didn’t waste any of my daughter's time by making her pose for pictures throughout the park so that I could post them to Facebook. I know that I learned some new things about my daughter and about how she feels about certain things. I know about all of the Rainbow Fairies and how they found each other and who the fairy was who started it all (her name is Ruby). I learned that eye contact and being truly engaged for one entire day sure as hell beats even one minute spent uploading a picture to Facebook. I learned that you can’t get those minutes back. I learned that not only do I appreciate those extra minutes, but my daughter does too. I learned that she has different facial expressions when she knows I am intently listening and watching her. I learned that she smiles every time I look at her. I learned that I could get more out of any experience if I use my eyes rather than a camera lens or a phone.