The two courses I chose to take this semester have shaped up to pose an interesting challenge. Monday nights explore the power of connectivity, media literacy, digital citizenship, and creating a digital identity. Tuesday nights explore disconnecting, being present with the outdoors, and addressing our nature deficit disorder.
Monday night, as part of our learning journey, our class went canoeing. Incidentally, this happened to be my first time in a canoe. While I was (literally) trembling with fear, I was excited to try something that I had never done before. Prior to the class, we received an e-mail encouraging us to leave our cellphones behind, in hopes to "connect" with our natural experience. We were also asked to bring something non-digital to write with once we reached Spruce Island. So, off to the store I went to purchase the first spiral notebook I have purchased in well over 10-years.
The experience in the canoe was incredible! [I must pause to thank Jillian for being an awesome canoe partner]. The experience had me feeling exhilarated, peaceful, proud (of not capsizing), and… regret. Why? My entire time in the canoe, I wanted a picture. I assure you that this is not a vanity thing… it's a desire to remember that moment. Life is so incredibly busy right now; my mind just can't take it all in. Hence, I love looking at pictures to remember and reminisce. While many people may say "just live in the moment" and "be present with nature", I say, why can’t we both “save” and “savour”? Nathan Jurgenson seems to think it's possible.
My first time in a canoe was a special moment in my life… an achievement, really. To me, that is something worth hanging on to.
I came across an article this week that suggested one can't "live in the moment" if they have their cellphone out to "capture the moment". The writer laments that "we aren't experiencing life" and "we're losing moments with every tap and swipe." This has become a popular opinion.
I guess one of my big questions is... when did the assumption surface that people aren't "present" if they are taking a photograph?
I have an (almost) three-year-old daughter who is my pride and joy. I have often been teased (sometimes mocked) that I have "the most photographed baby on Facebook". Yes, that may be so, but this is the only way our family gets to see our daughter grow up. This way, they are barely missing a step in her development. We Skype at least once or twice per week, but our daughter is often in bed by the time they are home from work, so Facebook allows for that asynchronous connection. Truly, Facebook (even though many people give it a bad rap) is a treasured social media platform in our family. I would argue until I'm blue in the face that Facebook has brought our family closer than it could ever be without it. Shelley Turkle asks, "In the process of connecting, are we setting ourselves up to be isolated?" In my personal situation, I think the opposite is true: my daughter would be isolated from her family without connecting.
Bound and determined to include our family in our daughter's life, we have even been known insert our phone into a waterproof case and Skype with abuelita and abuelito at the local pool or splash park. Yes, I even own a selfie stick, and we've used it to Skype with them while walking around the lake. Do we get judgmental stares for taking our phone in the water or having a selfie stick while walking in the park? Yes we do. However, we do these things to bring our family to be present in our moment.
Grandpa collapsed after Grandma's funeral; when I learned that Grandpa was failing, I decided to create a video slideshow in iMovie of his life. Grandma even had pictures of him as a baby. I burnt the slideshow on a DVD and stuck it in my purse to keep it close to me. When I got the call to come to the hospital to say my goodbyes, there just happened to be a TV and DVD player in the ICU room he was in. I popped in the DVD, and for 20 minutes, my very forgetful 93-year-old grandpa watched his life transpire before him, recalling many memories, all the while with a smile. About one hour later, he passed.
Of course, we must always strive for balance in our lives. Harmony McMillan and Amy Skuka have some great blog posts on that very concept. Concerning balance, our device usage directly relates to our education. People must be taught how to use technology to enhance their life, not control it. This education starts in the home and is developed/supported in school. It ultimately comes down to sound digital citizenship.
I am not arguing to live your life viewing the world through a camera lens, but what I am saying is instead of evaluating someone's "presence" in a moment, we should be considerate of their "purpose". Similarly, we cannot tell a painter to stop painting the roses because he should be smelling them. Although I personally find Shelley Turkle's view of digital connection a tad pessimistic, I do agree when she says, "I'm not suggesting turning away from devices, only that we build a more reflective relationship with them, with others, and with ourselves."