“Where do dinosaurs live?” my son asks one day at the breakfast table. “They don’t,” I tell him. “Dinosaurs are extinct.” He looks at me seriously, thinking about this. There is a pause, and then he says, “they need a diaper change!”
While laughing uncontrollably and trying to explain that “extinct” and “stinky” are two totally different things, I am also having a very familiar thought: I should post this on Facebook. Other iterations of this same impulse include: where is my phone, I need to talk a picture of this! Or, wait, make him do that again so I can get a video.
I’m not proud of thinking this. In fact, I hate that these urges to share and document leap unbidden into my mind every time my son does something amazing, or funny, or cute. I hate that they take me out of the moment. That, instead of just listening to him talk about dinosaurs, and being present with him while I explain what extinct actually means, I’m also crafting my Facebook post in my head and wondering how many likes it’ll get. Or that, instead of just watching him smile with me when he realizes he’s said something funny, I’m turning away and rooting around in my purse for my phone so I can take a photo to send to a friend.
It’s not just about posting to social media. I made the decision before my son was born not to post photos of him on the internet and, with very few exceptions, I’ve stuck to it. So my urge to take a photo or a video isn’t about accumulating likes or shares or retweets. But it is about sharing these experiences with someone else.
I post his words online so that other people can laugh along with me. I send video of him to my family and friends so that they can applaud his ability to recognize letters, or coo over the way his face lights up when he sees his favorite toy. Just like I do.
Because here I am, alone with him all day, with no one to turn to and say, “wow, isn’t he amazing?” or “oh my God, can you believe he just did that?” Just him and me. And my phone. So I use the phone and I do my best to document what’s happening and I send it out into the world and I get a response.
Which is great. For me. I feel more connected to the world, less isolated. I feel the validation that comes with other people sharing my feelings and the pride that comes with other people applauding my child. But what does he get? In that moment (whatever moment it is) he gets a mom who is reaching for her phone, encouraging him to “do that one more time so Mommy can take a picture!” Instead of a mom who is right there with him. Listening. Laughing. Explaining. Whatever.
It’s not like I do this all the time. Some of the time, but not all. I’m present more than I’m not. And I’m definitely not one of those moms who takes pictures or videos of her kid when he’s angry, or sad, or cranky just to show people how cute he looks when he cries. But the thought is still there. That needling little voice in the back of my head saying, wouldn’t this be a good picture? Just asking.
It’s a problem that’s unique to our time. The impulse to pull out my phone and document what my son is doing in real time is made possible only by the fact that I have a phone to pull out and that it’s capable of taking photos, videos, and posting to Facebook in a matter of seconds. My brain has been completely rewired. Thinking about pulling out my phone to capture a moment is just a reflex. Mine is the last generation to remember a time when there was no phone to pull out. But I’ve already forgotten what it feels like not to have one.
I could put my phone away. And I do. I could log off of Facebook. And I do. But it doesn’t matter. The thought is still there. Like a tic. Ooh, I should take a photo. Or, I wish I had that on video. It’s a little thing, really. More about the thoughts I’m thinking than the actions I’m taking. But I wish, sometimes, that I could just erase my phone from my memory. And be present in a way that is utterly impossible now. Not just choosing not to pull out my phone, but completely ignorant of its existence.
But then I wouldn’t have a picture. And the moment would be gone. And I’d have no one to share it with. Except my son.
Except my son . . .