Perhaps more than any other season, the holidays are profuse with picturesque moments and sparkling social engagements. Everything seems to glimmer with specialness, perhaps mostly because of its rarity.
As we unearth the sequestered glitz and rare rituals, it’s no wonder we crave ways to capture it all. We frame our moments in smartphone pictures and share our celebrations on social media to herald the seasonal cheer, as if subconsciously recognizing that the hoopla won’t last for long. We want to preserve it—we want to solidify the significance of the simple magic.
It’s human nature to compile and refine souvenirs of ephemeral moments. We’re born memory-collectors. Diary-keeping first became popular during the Renaissance as a way to record personal events and opinions, but the earliest known journals date back as far as the second century. Even before photography grew commonplace in the early 1900s, many people scrapbooked calling cards and other physical mementos.
In today’s smartphone-savvy world, the process is easier than ever. To document our holiday festivities, we need only Instagram our tinsel-topped trees, share shots of our seasonal shindigs on Facebook, or Tweet that funny thing that Grandma said at Hanukkah Seder. Whether digital or physical, via methods advanced or ancient, our compiled memorabilia form our unofficial autobiographies. They’re our proof of existence and our comforting safeguards against the perpetual passage of time.
Today the public posting routines is so standard and instantaneous that it’s hardly a conscious decision; instead, it’s an automatic impulse. There’s a sense that important events aren’t saved to our memories unless garnered in gigabytes in the memories of our phones. Our mobile devices are less like tools and more like extra appendages, perpetually in our pockets or hands, always turned on.
According to a Gallup poll, 81% of us keep our phones nearby during almost all waking hours. But when we give our phones a seat at the family holiday feast, we dampen the emotional depth of the communal celebration.
The holidays are intended as a cherished time of coming together: joining in revelry, gathering around sacred rituals, and laughing, lounging, and luxuriating with loved ones. As tempting as it is to tune out Uncle Abe's long-winded stories, or to take a breather from the chaos of full house, when you use technology for a 'break' it prevents making the genuine connections (good, bad or indifferent) that comprise the fabric of family relationships.
So how can we stop our smartphones from interfering with our live experiences? How can we use them as they should be used — as tools, rather than unrestrained extra limbs? How can we savor and preserve the short-lived holiday magic without letting the screen time cut it shorter?
Snap now, post later: We can still take the pictures of the precious occasions, but refrain from posting them immediately online or even sorting through them in the moment. Instead, as soon as we finish snapping the shots, put phones away. This way, we don’t miss out on in-person engagement as we divert our attention towards captioning, cropping, and filtering. The delay also allows the memories to settle more deeply into our minds and hearts before we reflect and refine them in publishable forms.
Immobilize the mobile devices: Let’s leave the phones out of our hands. Leave them off the table. Leave them farther than our pockets, even. When we’re out of the house, we might zip them up tightly in inner pouches of our purses; when we’re at home, we might put them face-down on faraway counters or even close them in drawers so we can’t reach for them on automatic impulse. When we want them, they’re inconvenient enough to add intention and awareness to what might otherwise be nonstop, knee-jerk habit.
Ban browsing: As we admire the digitally documented versions of other people’s festivities, we’re more likely to cave to envy or insecurity, losing touch with the specialness of our own experiences. If we pick a specific time of day for scrolling through our various social media feeds — perhaps for a quick half-hour alone in the afternoon — we can otherwise focus on being fully present in our personal celebrations, not admiring those shared by and between outsiders.
Lay down limits: Some of us might abstain from cellphone and social media use for the first two hours of the morning to start the day with a clean slate, while others might choose to steer clear in the two hours before bed. We might settle on specific phone-free hours within our families, agreeing to leave our devices at home for particular outings or events. We might even plan to stay offline altogether for a day or two — and make a public pronouncement of that decision to hold ourselves accountable.
By setting clear-cut boundaries, we make the space in our everyday routines for a few purely low-tech moments – a luxury as simply special as the holidays themselves.
p.s. Another way to be present this season? Step away from the hustle.