The Documented Life: A New Old Twist

December 21, 2013 at 2:42 pm (By Amba)

Yesterday I read this op-ed by Sherry Turkle about how we can no longer simply think or sense or experience or converse without interrupting ourselves to make a record with a device: we miss the experience in the process of “capturing” it, documenting it.

I don’t really think this is so different from what we’ve always done, either mentally in the form of inner chatter (what meditators try to stop), or externally by keeping journals or sketchbooks. Let’s just say our acquisitiveness has become more visible; in our attempts to grasp elusive experience and compel the moment to seem more real, less dreamlike, we’ve invented a newer, faster, shinier mousetrap. “Better,” well, that can be debated.

In response or no, I left my iPhone behind last night (not for the first time) when I came over to my parents’ house for dinner. The camera is one of the aspects of the gadget I have the least-mixed feelings about. It has enabled me to take some wonderful pictures, and I’m not even a photographer. But I do sometimes get busier capturing the sunset than experiencing it.

After dinner my parents sat down in front of the PBS NewsHour, aptly dubbed “The Snooze” because it’s their excuse for a post-prandial nap. Just as the show rolled into a long feature on whether brain-training videogames can keep you sharp as you age, my mom (90) slumped forward over her baby-blanket knitting (3 more great-grandchildren coming in March!!), and my dad (almost 96) had his head thrown back with his mouth open. The coincidence of sound and scene positively cried out for documentation. (My parents still have their wits in both senses, so I can confidently say that they would find it funnier than we do.)

But I didn’t have my phone. So I decided to do something quaint: try to draw them. (I’m even less of an artist than a photographer.) They did not stir as I tiptoed out of the room and back in with paper and pencil. Long story short, I couldn’t begin to get their faces—it was severely humbling even to try—but I didn’t do too badly with their hands.



  1. A said,

    I’d so much rather look at this than an iPhone shot—-really nice!

  2. dnormang said,

    Wow, did you capture Mom — even before I read the post I knew what and who that was.

  3. karen said,

    So in your words you are an artist.
    As always.

  4. karen said,

    btw, amba- i hope your silence has been more of the: “… I don’t really think this is so different from what we’ve always done, either mentally in the form of inner chatter (what meditators try to stop), or externally by keeping journals or sketchbooks…” and living life freely type. I’ve missed the musings.

  5. karen said,

    Maybe i should have said:
    ~with your words~?

  6. amba12 said,

    Karen, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just don’t have much to say. Maybe I got all blogged out, or maybe I’m like a snake taking a long time to shed its skin (apologies to anyone who’s creeped out by snakes; I find them cool) and feeling grumpy in the meantime. Or maybe I’m instinctively saving it up for some less tossed-off writing.

    Isn’t it time for you to take the wheel for a while? I long for you to blog here. I want to read YOUR musings.

  7. karen said,

    Well, i now know i can send pictures from my cell phone to my e-mail.
    That means i can send someone a picture to share here.
    I am a very slow adapting person. i am afraid of change- i cringe inside of even the thought of trying something new- i wonder if it’s the fear of failure or the work and energy it takes to change in the 1st place.

    I’ll try harder this new year coming to try new things:0).
    I’m sorry your grumpy. Aren’t you in FL right now, though?
    I’ll change weather wise w/you. Or, anyone!
    Except Chicago weather- it sounds worse than here-lol.

  8. amba12 said,

    “the work and energy it takes to change” — THAT’s what’s wrong with me. And it isn’t really “wrong.”

    At this moment I’m in Chapel Hill for my friend who recently had a knee replaced. But I’m living in Florida this winter, yes. The weather there is insanely beautiful. I haven’t actually lived through a “winter winter” for 8 years, between the time in Chapel Hill and then Florida. And I LIKE winter. Within reason.

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