Family Man

Screen Time

What are we missing when we're trying not to miss anything?
FYI-Family-Magazine-Family-Man-Screen-time-Dec2016/Jan2017
Illustration by David Miles

My brothers and I still laugh about an endearing (in retrospect) habit that our mom had while we were growing up. Many times, when we were completely immersed in a fun activity, whether it be laughing, playing or just kidding it up, she would insist on capturing the moment by taking a picture.

Not that unusual of a habit, but the problem was that this involved us boys stopping said activity and waiting while she prepped the camera.(This was many years before the latest iPhone iOS upgrade.) This entailed loading film that was designed for different light sources. Assuming the film was loaded correctly, it then required three to five minutes of spinning that little dial on the corner of the camera until the film “caught” and lined up for a picture. The preparation of the camera was accompanied by eight to nine minutes of her insisting it would “just be a second.” Finally, after we were properly agitated and officially disengaged from the activity we had been involved in, she would to ask us to smile.

The irony is that I have not seen any of those pictures since, I don’t know, my wedding? And that may have been the first time they were ever viewed. There’s something amusing about the fact that we remember the act of the photography more than what the photography actually captured.

Times have changed and now phone cameras just start shooting the second you take them out of your pocket. But while photography and videography are so much simpler now, it feels like the act of shooting is more invasive than ever.

These days, I see parents chasing their kids around with iPhones as if their children are invisible and the phone acts as some sort of infrared sensor that allows them to be seen. At my daughter’s school recitals, I’m surrounded by a sea of screens being held up and everyone is watching their child on them. Sometimes it feels like I’m forced to watch their children through their screens as well, particularly when the tall guy with the extra large iPad sits in front of me.

I understand the need to capture memories, but as a dad I want to make sure that my daughter remembers seeing my face in the crowd when she’s singing at her recital and not the top of my head behind a screen. I also get that some of that footage is taken for spouses or other relatives who couldn’t be there, but I have a hard time believing that’s the case with 90 percent of the phones in the room being held high.

The sheer logistics of even getting around to watching all that footage is mind-boggling, too. I’ve calculated the amount of time it would take a parent to watch every moment of footage they’ve shot of their children, factoring in five seconds per photo to view every photo they’ve taken. It turns out that the amount of time it would take to view the “captured memories” of the average 7-year-old is eight years. And that assumes no sleeping.

As a parent, I’m trying to find that balance between capturing a few great moments and just enjoying the moment for what it is. I can film or photograph my daughter’s recital and look at it later, but it won’t give me the same feeling as just soaking it all in with my own eyes.

And, who am I kidding? I’m not going to watch the footage later. There’s never been a time when I’ve said to my wife, “Hey, honey, remember Sienna’s Valentine’s Day recital from kindergarten? The one where they all mumbled through “All You Need Is Love,” and it would have been impossible to recognize the song except that the teachers were singing? The one where you could kind of see her in the second row with her hand in her mouth, but only when the iPad in front of us would sway to the left? Yeah, let’s watch that again.”

Maybe it’s just a dad thing. For all I know, my mom might have spent hours looking at the photos she took of us. Maybe my wife does watch the kindergarten rendition of “All You Need Is Love.” (Or maybe it was Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” kind of hard to tell.) Maybe that helps preserve those memories longer. And you’ve got to hold on to those memories because kids grow up fast.

At least I think they do; I still haven’t upgraded my phone.

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The sheer logistics of even getting around to watching all that footage is mind-boggling, too. I’ve calculated the amount of time it would take a parent to watch every moment of footage they’ve shot of their children, factoring in five seconds per photo to view every photo they’ve taken. It turns out that the amount of time it would take to view the “captured memories” of the average 7-year-old is eight years. And that assumes no sleeping.

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