Technology is a filter that removes you from present experiences. We see it all the time at dinner, when friends have to remember to put their phones down and actually talk to each other. We see it on trains and buses, when people miss their stops because they’re absorbed in their devices, or fail to connect to their surroundings because they’ve got their earbuds in. They may as well be somewhere else.
I’m be the first to admit a social media and cell phone addiction. In part, I blame my job. As a blogger and a writer, I tweet articles and blog posts. I Instagram almost daily, making sure my photos have a certain aesthetic and that they’re on brand. It’s all stupid of course, but it’s unfortunately necessary. And I’m grateful for this five-inch rectangle of magic, because it gave me a career. Simple as that.
But when I go on vacation, I hate the stupid thing. I recently came back from a trip to San Francisco with my cousin. In a new city for the first time, our devices were absolutely essential. We needed bus schedules and stop information, we needed a way to contact friends, get Ubers, split the check after dinner, call our families back home. Cell phones make everything effortless. I love them for that.
We created a hashtag before we left so we could post our pictures and show the world what we were doing, and then have a little cyberpage where our photos would be organized. Whenever we saw something beautiful, breathtaking, or new, we took photos of each other posed in front of the thing, and then sent them to each other. I Instagrammed mine, she hers. I spent time choosing filters. She asked me, “What should the caption be?” We let our food grow cold while we got the perfect angle for the #innout hashtag.
And then for the tacos. And the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t get me wrong: photos are the absolute best way to remember a vacation and I carry along a DSLR wherever I travel. But social media is different.
There’s a feeling that we’re enjoying ourselves for others: that we need the appreciation, acceptance and even jealousy of other people to fully round out our vacation experience. The phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” seems to apply here! So we take photos of stuff—everything we see—and then spend more minutes editing and filtering and ‘gramming the photo than looking at the actual thing in real life.
On this vacation in particular, I noticed this about myself. So whenever I took a photo of a thing, I made myself put the camera down right afterward, and I suspended my activity to absorb the moment. Take a photo of the Bridge? Fine. That’s for later. Look at the actual thing. This is for now. Wait until tomorrow to post that photo, if you must. #Latergram. ;)
Live in the moment.
Soon I’m going on another trip, this time to a place in upstate New York where there is almost no cell service. Whenever I get up there, I toss my cell phone in the room and hardly glance at it for a full week. When I check my emails, I only scan for the important stuff. Instagram fills up with photos, Twitter is a huge effing mess when I get back, and I chuck it all and don’t care. The absence of cell service makes me realize how peripheral social media really is.
I don’t need it to enjoy myself. I feel myself shifting, I live differently up there. I feel unencumbered, unfiltered, unjudged. I feel, to put it most simply, free.
So, a challenge: next time you take a vacation, delete your Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook (what are the kids using these days, anyway?) and live in the moment. Take pictures, sure. But wait until you’re home and missing your vacation to look at them. Remember all the feelings you had, what you experienced, how you’ve changed.
I remember a quote from a fifth-grade required reading book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, that went, “Some people spend all their time on a vacation taking pictures so that when they get home they can show their friends evidence that they had a good time. They don’t pause to let the vacation enter inside of them and take that home.”
All my life I’ve thought of that quote whenever I take a vacation. Sometimes I follow its sage advice, but most times I don’t. I think I should take that advice more often, though. Letting a vacation change you is more of a souvenir than likes on Instagram, after all.