Yesterday we went to Thanksgiving dinner at my wife’s parents’ house. There is, in their spacious backyard, a perfect hill for sledding. There was, in the garage, a perfect sheet of plastic to fashion into a toboggan. We slid and spun down the hill again and again, me and my pink-cheeked boy, until the sun set behind the distant trees.
It occurred to me many times that this experience was perfect for Facebook — to make a short video of the boy sliding and whooping his way downhill, or at least to transmit the important status: “Sledding with son on makeshift sled! #blessed.”
But when my cell phone broke two months ago, I didn’t bother replacing it. I canceled my service instead, sick of the way the phone made me less present in any moment. Out with my wife, at the park with my son, whatever. I’d check the phone every few minutes for nothing-that-important. Occasionally it’s inconvenient to not have the phone (calling the wife, for example, to remind me what exactly she’d asked me to pick up the store I am now wandering aimlessly through), but I don’t miss it much. I think it makes me less annoying to be phoneless. The shame I used to feel when seeing those thought-pieces about people and their smart phones as turned to smug self-satisfaction. “Don’t even have a cell phone, anymore,” I remember.
But does it really matter if I have a phone with me, if I am mentally framing the moment, crafting the image, composing the status? Thirty years ago Annie Dillard wrote of the “running description of the present,” that took place in her head on hikes, the “talking too much,” even when she was alone. I definitely know this feeling, though I wonder what genre these thoughts mimicked in the days before Twitter, what imaginary medium and audience gave shape to her interior monologue?
I still have the cell phone in the hand of my imagination. Even if I want to believe that my own shutter opened and the moment imprinted itself on the silver of my soul, I was actually composing a blog entry in my head about how such a thing happened, and applying the “Rockwell Filter” to my mental Instagram.
But that’s not completely fair to myself. Flying down the hill there was nothing but speed and cold and the squeals of a happy child. It was so perfect I have no memory of it — I didn’t jot one down in my mind for later.
(Photo taken by my wife from the living room window.)