Last month, I witnessed a screen-free wedding. The groom made a specific request that there be no digital photography during the wedding so he and his bride could look at the faces of their guests rather than a sea of lenses.
Make no mistake; these were not the nuptials of some octogenarian relics of the analog world. These were two twenty-somethings. You know, Generation Selfie. Neither of these two young adults is averse to today's digital gadgets and their infinite number of programs. In fact, as I listened to the groom chatting at the wedding rehearsal about digital music, text messages to and from his fiancee, and social media, I wondered why his "screen-free" request surprised me.
My rational side compels me to resist calling it "backlash." While I have mixed feelings about today's revolving door of surfing, gaming, texting, tweeting, networking, blogging, skyping, and messaging, I try to find a comfortable middle between resistance to change and a total yielding to gadgetry. The wedding featured digital music set up to run through a phone, but otherwise, gadgets had to be set aside until after the ceremony. This deliberate, wise use of technology represents that comfortable middle.
The very embracing of a "screen-free" ceremony attests to a universal immersion in digital technology. It is taken for granted. Some see digital preoccupation as mania. Those with a fondness for unlimited social connection see it as salvation, a perpetual repudiation of loneliness. For others, it is modern education, for others, entertainment, and still others, obsession. It is quite possibly all of the above.
For better or worse, digital connectivity is here to stay, making reality hard to pin down. Just when I think I have an idea who is using which programs and at what age, I see people in their sixties and seventies pulling cell phones out of their pockets. Or retired people setting up Facebook accounts. Tablets? I've seen my 2-year-old granddaughter and an 80-year-old book club pal swiping their inter-generational way through those.
Common wisdom assigns books and newspapers to baby boomers and their elders and digital gadgets to younger people, who are presumed to read nothing more substantial than abbreviated text messages with emoticons attached for clarity. The delineations are not that clear, though. It is just as easy to find young people who enjoy holding a book as it is to connect with social networking elders.
This is truly a phenomenon without boundaries. If we overlook the rapid pace of digital change, if we overlook the discomfort we feel when we see kids playing video games through dinner or checking out their purchases with one ear free and one filled with an ear bud, we just may find something of use in the digital maelstrom. These days, anything is possible, including the joy of discovering that Grandma, who said she didn't want any more tchotchkes for her birthday, loves getting an iTunes card.
Perhaps the most exciting application of digital technology is activism. Never have opportunities to "spread the word" been so pervasive and yet so personalized. Having grown up in a family that talks politics at the table, I enjoy reading my friends' political posts, which are usually "shares" of articles from print or digital news sources. People who are uncomfortable talking politics at the digital table are free to opt out.
I recently shared an article about Neel Kashkari, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for California. His week spent living as a homeless person, along with his ability to present the moderate face of the Republican Party, make for an interesting story that I found important enough to re-post. My network of contacts includes people from at least four political parties and a wide span of age groups, any one of whom could spread this story. The same is true of everyone learning through this print medium about Mr. Kashkari's week of empathetic discovery and then passing along this tale of hope and goodness to their acquaintances.
My young newlywed friends have taught me that the reign of gadgets need not run amok, that we humans still have the capacity for wise use. Regardless of our generation, we have such a range of choices. And sometimes, the choice is to say, "Not that. At least not now."
Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org