Today, on National Pooh Bear Day, I ran across a quote from this lovable bear that struck a chord with me. It expressed something that’s been bothering me for a long, long time. It’s a quote from this calm, loving character of the past that is so relevant in this present day where we all feel the urge to document everything.
“We didn’t realise we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.”
As a teacher, coach, and campus minister, I have always struggled with how many moments in my students’ lives were moments of joy that were had, but missed. They were planned in order to be captured. Smiles were staged rather than beamed in spontaneity. Sure, they were documented on stories, streaks, and posts, but were they really savored and experienced the way they were meant to be? I didn't want them missing out. I knew this was the new way of things, but I didn't love it.
Now, I look at the profile picture challenge on Facebook recently, as an example of the metamorphosis that picture taking has undergone in one short decade for all ages. Honestly, in most of these challenge posts I prefer the older ones. Not because of nostalgia but because it’s obvious how much a picture meant “back then.” Some pictures may only be 10 years old, but in that time our pictures have morphed into something entirely different. No longer do photos always hold a real moment captured, instead they are now often a smile staged, brushed up, edited, and chosen meticulously from several other attempts. I see the perfection but I struggle to see the joy and the reality that a photo used to show.
I had a friend, about ten years my senior, show me pictures from her high school events-prom, senior trips, camp outs, etc. They looked so wonderful! The moments that is. The people, they had disheveled hair, cheesy grins, awkward placements, and goofy postures. None of them had figured out how to pose to show off their good side, or to not look fat, and none of them could give a care.
I felt jealous of those teens in the past. It really hit me how sacred and real those photos were. It prompted me to look at my old photos and I was stunned how real and memory packed each one was. The new ones, the staged ones...eh, they were nice but nothing special. And I’m 30. I didn’t have a camera phone until I had graduated college. I had lots of years without the ability to photograph the heck out of my life. Plus, I still can’t take a good selfie. My twin sister, husband, and I still giggle at how unphotogenic I am in most of my caught off guard photos (and most of the staged ones too!).
However, my past and present middle school students have grown up in a time where photos have a completely different meaning. I have had students admit that often they live for the photos. They do things for the likes. I remember asking different groups of students about how they do their hair or apply their makeup and what they take into consideration. Their answers? Take a wild guess. Many said they knew each thing they would do that day would be documented. How would they look? Would that highlight show up right? That’s not only a lot of pressure but I’d argue the more value and preparation that’s put into taking these everyday pictures and staging things, the less value and authenticity our pictures have.
I’ll end here, with a final challenge, not one from a sentimental stuffed bear or a Facebook photo challenge but a challenge that comes from a line of a U2 song that has always been one of my faves: “Don’t look before you laugh. Look ugly in a photograph.” I challenge you to see how this mentality changes the moments in your (or your kids’ ) lives. Don’t let photos rob your heart from the moments you long to savor. Let your memories exist somewhere other than your camera roll.
And to Pooh bear, thanks for letting me get my “oh bother” out there. Thank you for putting into words the longing I think we all need to recognize and encourage in our photo, posting, documenting obsessed selves.: The longing to make memories without realizing it or even “capturing it.”
(Parent note from a teacher/coach/campus minister perspective: be aware of this effect on your kids and their fun. I used to love to make students put phones in the center of the table at meals or fun events and tell them that this event was going to be awesome without our cameras. They could feel the sacredness of moments only shared with those present. The pressure was off. They learned how to experience moments rather than capture them.)