Being Present in the Digital Age

Are we missing out on great moments in favor of our screens?

Imagine you see Louie CK on the street. You may be motivated enough to walk up to the man and strike up a conversation — perhaps compliment him on his comedy or talk about his television series. At the very least, you may just be interested in whether the man is approachable or not. After chatting it up with one of the most recognizable comedians on the planet, you can walk away with an experience — a story to tell for the rest of your life about what kind of guy the star of “Louie” is.

This is, however, 2016. We live in a digital era where documenting one’s life can often outbalance actually living it. Real experiences regularly live in the shadow of Instagram posts, selfies and digital chronicilizations of people’s every movement. But for CK, it’s a no-go: no pics, and definitely no selfies.

“I don’t like taking pictures with people… It doesn’t feel normal,” CK explained to Showtime about his policy regarding people’s incessant need to take a selfie with him rather than have an actual conversation. “I always shake their hand and ask their name because everybody is interesting… About 80 percent of them leave happy.”

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CK’s comments and unique behavior in the face of a digital world speak to a broader issue. While the age of smartphones and the Internet has led to wonderful iCKnnovations and new ways for people to succeed and connect, there is also not a fair balance between our digital selves and real selves.

There are plenty of other viral moments besides CK’s. The Daily Mail recently wrote about a picture in which a crowd of people watched the filming of the movie “Black Mass,” starring beloved celebrity Johnny Depp. All are on their phones trying to capture something, anything to be put into their share of the cloud. Meanwhile, an older lady stands in the midst of them all, merely watching and taking in the experience of a professional Hollywood shoot. She alone is in the present.

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Then there’s the picture seen ’round the world of a man sitting on his boat clicking away on his phone as he misses a whale swimming right by him. All might not be lost. He could have gotten a new high score on “Angry Birds.”

Human beings are working harder and harder to possess fame, recognition and the feeling that their lives matter by cataloging every moment of their day on social media. Yet the real occurrences that comprise the true substance of a well-lived life – poignant moments with a hurting friend, daddy-daughter date nights, private walks and meditations in nature, etc. – have nearly all been reduced to fodder for a “killer Instagram pic” that we hope gets “tons of likes.”

“Humans are social beings. We strive for and need social interaction. Our self-identity is shaped by how we think others see us. We know that face-to-face interactions are important social exchanges in which people pass on resources, lifestyles, and emotions,” Ed Collom, professor of sociology at the University of Southern Maine, told LifeZette.

“We are missing out on some crucial moments.”

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That need to be social has led to the sometimes bloated importance of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media resources that allow us the instant gratification of digital connection. Facebook has an estimated 890 million people logging on a day, and Instagram sports over 75 million daily active users. These connections, however, may be coming at the expense of physical ones.

“We are missing out on some crucial moments,” Elaine Swann, etiquette and lifestyle expert and author of the book Let Crazy Be Crazy, told LifeZette. “People must put forth an effort to live in the moment.”

Swann believes there is a balance that has not yet been found because people are too caught up in the glamour of this newfound digital age. “It will balance itself out,” she continues, noting that behavior is bound to change as people become more and more aware of proper phone and digital etiquette. This includes putting your phone away in intimate situations to give people your full attention, or finding the balance in chronicling a moment and then moving on from your phone.

While it’s easy to see the drawbacks of a world where everyone is glued to their screens and to see how their lives are perceived through pictures rather than in face-to-face interactions, it’s important to note the place of social media and the benefits of the digital age, as well.

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“As a scholar of social movements and social change, I would be remiss to not mention how social media and the Internet have enabled collective action by ordinary people. It is so easy to share information and get the word out about social issues and challenges to elites… Think about the news function of social media and smartphones. Corruption, negligence, and brutality can be captured and shared, helping to hold those in power responsible for their actions,” Professor Collom says.

There are benefits to a world with social media, instant connection and gratification. However, as a society, we have yet to find the balance between those benefits and the values of the moments occurring right in front of us.

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