Six Square Inches

Not long ago some family members took me to Sea World, which is required by law for tourists on their first visit to San Diego or San Antonio. (In Orlando you’re allowed an exemption only if you can prove you spent $1000 at Disney World.)

During the dolphin show, we gasped at the remarkable skills displayed by these gorgeous animals, marveled at the incredible training which must go into every production, and fought off dehydration with oversized sodas.

There’s so much to absorb during these shows, with multiple acts taking place at various spots, all at the same time. At one point, three colorful wild birds were released over the crowd, skimming just a foot or so over our heads as they flew a synchronized pattern inside the arena.

I noticed something interesting, however: almost half of the crowd around us never saw the birds. These people held up their phones, hoping to capture the essence of the show and to record it for posterity. And while that happened, they missed at least fifty percent of everything. Their faces were locked onto six square inches of a smartphone screen while the world zoomed past them.

They didn’t see the tandem jump over here, or the seals splashing the crowd over there. And they wouldn’t have noticed the aerial circus even if the birds had deposited a big Texas ‘Thank Y’all For Coming’ on their heads.

It made me realize how much of life is missed for the sake of recording one small thing . . . which, when lumped into the hundreds of hours of other ‘memories,’ will likely never be seen again.

Losing The Periphery

The ease and affordability of video recording devices has, in a way, become a curse. We’ve taught our kids that every single thing that happens must be recorded! In the process, we’ve trained them to view life through six square inches.

It’s contrary to the skills we developed to survive as a species. A good field of vision was critical; if our ancestors had walked through life with tunnel-vision, they’d have been dinner.

But today we’re caught up in the need to capture every moment, to store everything digitally. In doing so, our kids don’t notice things on the periphery. They’ve grown up watching life through a tiny screen. In fifty years all children will exit the womb cross-eyed.

Perhaps I’m an oddball these days, but I rarely - if ever - use my phone to record videos, and the few pictures I take are usually reserved for snarky Facebook posts. Everything that’s stored for posterity is done so using the greatest recording device on Earth: the human brain. It captures sights, sounds, and smells, and - most importantly - imprints them with an actual emotional connection.

Today, when I see a colorful wild bird, I do two things: (1) cover my popcorn, and (2) immediately recall the warmth of the day at Sea World, the smell of the flowers ringing the amphitheater, and the sounds of the cash registers emptying my wallet: all non-visual (video) memories.

And I remember the laughter of my family. I remember how the day felt. That’s something a smartphone can’t possibly record.

Losing Our Humanity?

I wish more parents flipped the priorities with their family. Maybe put more emphasis on actually living these moments together fully, without sacrificing a large chunk of the experience for the sake of a digital recording. Listen, waiting in theme park lines without a phone builds character.

Kids will become better observers, which will help them as they make their way through school and, ultimately, the working world. They’ll gain an advantage in not only gathering information, but in sorting it all out. Try talking to them afterwards about the experience, incorporating all five senses. Ask them how it felt. Reassure them that it’s okay to eat tuna; they weren’t part of the show.

When I think of trips I’ve taken where very few photos were snapped, my memories somehow seem more lush, more personal. I’ve realized that electronic devices are great - but only to a point. When they begin to replace our actual memories, they take part of our humanity with them.

We were built to process an entire field of vision, with a computer in our heads that gathers and analyzes everything in a split second. Life is much too beautiful and interesting. Besides, it’s unnatural to cram Shamu into six square inches.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Drew Hays
Additional image courtesy of Sebastien Gabriel

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