Be Here Now

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Last month, my husband taught my son to shave. They stood side by side, faces covered in white lather, chins tilted at the same angle, sliding their razors up and down. I watched them for a minute in the mirror, and considered snapping a photo and posting it on Facebook. But I thought better of it. I watched them a little longer, and then, feeling like I was intruding, I left. As I walked up the stairs, I thought about having a son old enough to shave, about everything that follows - the looming empty nest, college and beyond.

Apple just released an ad for its new iPhone. It chronicles several days of a family gathering for Christmas, with a teenage boy perpetually in the background on his smartphone. We see him not participating in building a snowman, then retreating to his device after hanging a single ornament. Staring at his eerily glowing phone, he perches on the side of an outdoor ice rink, his skate-shod feet dangling below. But then, on Christmas morning, he turns on the TV -- cue the sappy music -- and the entire family watches his heartwarming video of the events he had removed himself from, spliced together expertly in a moving tribute to family togetherness. Turns out he was actually focused on the family the whole time, which in Apple's world makes it all better.

Okay, so I will admit the ad made me tear up a little bit. But I ask all of us: is it really better to have produced a touching video of family experiences instead of truly living the experiences? We see this boy hand a carrot to a young cousin for the snowman, never lifting his eyes from his phone. Wouldn't it be more meaningful if he put it away, and helped roll a snowball or two? Why is it better for him to film the skating than hit the ice himself?

Sometimes, reacting to images exploding on Instagram and Facebook, I consider taking and posting a photo. Yesterday a tall stand of red trees, their leaves aflame, stopped me. I pulled over to look. And then I drove on.

With a Perspective, I am Sarah Weld.


Sarah Weld is a writer and editor who lives in Oakland with her husband and two teenagers.