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Digital Distractions

Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

iPhones, iPads, iPods—ay yay yay.

Is there a “me” in all this? Where have we all gone?

It gets worse daily.

Digital devices have become walls and barriers to social interaction with our closest family and friends, while boosting social interaction with those we never would have known. We have become parties of one and communities of all. When I am photographing a family, need I include their digital device in the shots? Is that how one shows affection nowadays? I thought so, as the grandparent beamed and smiled with pride, brandishing her custom-cased iPad as a shield while being photographed!

Does excitement mean tweeting about it? Are the steps to affection framing, focusing, capturing, and friending?

Grandma used to kvell. Now she twitters.

It seems we spend so much time and effort planning the big day that, even as we are celebrating it, we still must be checking and reporting and updating. All this distracts us from the actual big day, making it just like any other day—like we are working toward the big day still.

One of my specialties has been documenting the family at certain milestone moments. Weddings involve two families, but bar and bat mitzvahs are all one family. Regardless of whether the simcha centers on the first, last, or middle child, it is always special. Reflecting on what the event means, celebrating with family and friends, sharing and communicating: that’s what it is all about. Our friends and family possess a world of emotion, expression, and feeling. And that is what makes our interactions special. With family members all carrying their own handheld digital devices, they now can be distant, even while standing right here. Infinite information and immeasurable interests now lie in the hands of those we love, making it so easy to distance their hearts and minds from what is beautiful and meaningful right here and now.

I find fathers searching and scrolling through iPad images of a child, when that very child is right here being photographed and the father could be excited and personally involved in the moment. He could be reacting with visible pride to see his little girl growing up, rather than using this particular moment to dig up photos that are similar, different, or interesting. Why not enjoy the now!

Strangers enjoy watching me, because I am really into it. But when I go on a trip or visit a friend, I rarely bring a camera. I am a different person with a camera than without it. And so is everyone.

Without the digital distractions, I see people responding to the amusing, entertaining, and beautiful all around. With the digital devices, they are buried in their own selfish world.

Some people are more responsive. Some are less sentimental and sensitive. Before there is any hope that the shy or aloof person might actually be getting involved in the current emotional moment, there he goes, researching this or texting about that. It used to be we used remotes, now we have become remote. We are not here. We are deep and distant in the digital device.

Another issue is that all too often the device presents a challenge or an unexpected hiccup to overcome. That really can amplify the compulsion to focus intently on solving the riddle, and getting it to work. That problem-solving can consume the last morsels of our free time and fill potentially relaxing moments with frustrating jobs.

I wanted to write about this after constantly finding families who arrive at the big day following months and even years of planning and preparation, only to bury their heads and hearts in the digital distractions. There is always one more text to send, one more question to Google, one more thought to save.

At first it was a novelty. Sometimes it still is, with a new app or a device’s new model, size, or shape. I am a pretty high-tech guy and of course I have loads of cameras. But when I visit a friend’s event, it’s with no gear. I do not want to document it, I want to enjoy it. Some photos are nice to have. Some are special and meaningful. But having countless images, after a while, just gets to be more data to deal with, and more research to review each time. At some simchas, 97% of people are viewing the event through a camera. At other events, not a single guest takes photos! And everyone is so active!

I try to find the spiritual in each chuppah that I photograph. I look for images of people relating to each other. Parents, siblings, and, of course, the couple can be very expressive. But there are also moments when we acknowledge a greater power, and those images are special. At a recent wedding ceremony, one set of parents and siblings were misty eyed. Faces reacted to the couple as each of the wedding rites occurred: the sheva berachot, the wine, the ketubah, oh, and of course, the ring. Many photos tell those stories, and how much we wish for our Temple to be rebuilt!

But other parents and siblings were emotionally absent. I tried so hard to photograph them, but on that side of the chuppah, mother, grandmother, and sisters were hard at work—armed with digital devices, they framed, composed, focused, and looked more at their phones than heavenward, or even chassan-kallah-ward. Armed for battle, shields raised, some faces blocked but others obviously concerned that their image was askew, out of focus, or dark. You could tell from their questioning faces—of little use in the photo album later. v

Gary Rabenko can be reached at Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.

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Posted by on October 4, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.