Put down the iPad and just be there for your kid.
My 5-year-old played indoor sports this winter, because it is difficult to play basketball outdoors while you’re wearing snowshoes, and you couldn’t play it outdoors any other way, not this past February in the American Northeast.
For her last game, we arrived at the gym, and I sent her off to her team bench with her little pink water bottle. I sat on the sidelines. Few 5-year-olds have any sense of zone defense, or point defense, or defense at all. Or passing. Or shooting in the right direction. But that’s okay. They were getting exercise and having fun. My goal as a parent was to watch my daughter play, give a cheer when she (or her team, or really any kid) did something right, wave whenever she looked my way, and so on.
A mother arrived and sat next to me on the bench. Almost as soon as the game began, she took out an iPad, held it up in front her face, and started recording video. I gathered from her banter that she intended to record the entire game. The iPad swayed back and forth as woman and gadget tracked their child up and down the court.
All went swimmingly for the first fifteen minutes. Then, the iPad gave an error and stopped recording. It had run out of storage space. The mother grumbled and spent several minutes deleting photos and apps off of the device. She started recording again, only to run out of space again about five minutes later. For the remainder of the game, she would record a few minutes, run out of space, delete stuff, and then repeat the cycle. Through it all, she grew more and more irritated at the iPad, as if the device had willfully chosen to ruin her day by not warping time and space to increase its internal storage capacity.
In the course of her struggles, her daughter scored four times. The mother missed every single one of them. I do not just mean that she didn’t record them on video; I mean that she didn’t even see them happen. She only knew because the kid ran over each time, beaming and breathless, to say, “Did you see that?” Invariably, the mother’s response was, “That’s great, honey, but I didn’t get it on the video, because the iPad is being so difficult.” And the mother would sigh and go back to poking at pixels with her index finger.
The mother’s involvement with her technology absorbed so much of her attention that she had nothing left for her daughter.
I know this feeling. I have tens of thousands of photos and videos—perhaps hundreds of thousands—most of which are not worth saving. I took them because I thought I would enjoy looking at them in the future. Mostly, I don’t. Too often I have fought with a camera that wasn’t working right, or seethed at a computer that wouldn’t manage the photos right, or whatever.
I can’t believe all the experiences with people that I missed
while I was having experiences with technology.
Lately, I have wondered if this image-recording nonsense is only a symptom of a deeper human tendency to worry about future happiness. Maybe we video our child’s entire basketball game because we recognize this should be a happy moment, and we want to preserve the moment so we can relive the happiness tomorrow, or next week, or when our kids are grown. We plan to watch these videos in the future as a kind of mental vacation: look, remember, the happy things we did! I suspect that mother was not merely frustrated with technology. Rather, the device jeopardized her sincere desire to store this moment and experience it again someday. The failings of today’s technology were directly interfering with her plans for the future. Her iPad stole tomorrow’s happiness, and she felt sad, angry, and helpless about it; so it stole today’s happiness too.
Yes, sometimes we can experience real joy when we replay a past happy moment in photo or video. But that’s rare. As Louis C.K. said, “Everybody’s watching a shitty movie of something that’s happening ten feet in front of them!” If we sacrifice the original experience to pay for the recorded memory of it, then the memory isn’t real, because we didn’t actually have the experience.
We only had the idea of the experience.
Someone suggested to me that the mom might have been recording the game for someone else (perhaps the dad?) who couldn’t personally attend the game. Even so, I have a hard time imagining that he would really watch all that. Wouldn’t a few photos suffice? Wouldn’t the dad rather hear that the mom gave her full attention to the child, rather than that she spent the game arguing with an iPad to make a choppy video that missed all the highlights of the game? Or am I being judgemental?
Don’t get me wrong: there is value in taking pictures. Please take some of your kids. And then come out from behind the electronics. My own approach is now to bring a camera, but limit myself to a specific time period for picture taking. If I’m going to be at the park for an hour, then only take pictures for 5–10 minutes at most. Maybe I’ll even direct the kids to specific activities. Then I’ll put the camera away and engage with the kids. My camera might miss a few good shots, but as long as I’m paying attention, my memory won’t.
I believe in Jim Elliot’s advice: “Wherever you are, be all there.”
And having your mind on a device means you’re not all there. So put it away. Slip it back in your pocket. Are you really addicted? Leave the device at home, in the glove compartment, or in another room. Can’t stop playing that game on your iPhone? Delete the app (no, really: delete the damned app). Turn it off—I mean shut it down, not just put it to sleep. At least for a time, put yourself out of tech’s reach.
And then watch your kid.
Play with your kid.
Talk to your kid.
Even if they don’t do anything that YouTube or Facebook would find amazing, you will have done something nobody else can do: you gave your child your direct time and attention. You freed your mind from distraction to focus on your kid.
Do we remember what that feels like?