For many of us, the holidays are a time when we spend precious connected moments with our loved ones. We may also engage in sacred rituals associated with these holidays.
Regardless of how you celebrate the holidays — or even if you don’t celebrate them specifically — this may well be one of the few times during the year when you can enjoy the presence of your family and friends in person and celebrate your relationships together.
Even when we have quality time after the holidays, our habits can return.
In recent years, the amount of energy that people devote to documenting, photographing, and sharing their holiday gatherings via social media has mushroomed. How often have you been at a holiday dinner where many of the people at the table are photographing the meal and each other and posting those photos on social media? How often are people checking their social media accounts during holiday events to see what other people are doing and then sharing what they find with others in the room?
Take Note of How You Feel
I'm not here to chastise or judge people for capturing their holiday experiences and sharing them with others online. My intention is merely to raise awareness about the existence of this phenomenon and ask you to pay attention to how engaging in this type of interaction feels to you.
If what you yearn for during a family meal is to connect with your family members face to face, to feel their presence and to be felt, and to savor the precious time that you have with them, how does it feel when the person sitting next to you is absorbed in their smartphone? I often feel invisible or don't feel the presence of that person whose attention is fixated on their smartphone rather than on me or our present interactions with each other.
How do you feel in those situations? Do you contribute to these feelings of disconnection through your own actions? For example, do you sit by yourself on your smartphone watching a video, playing a game, or texting with friends rather than engaging directly with your loved ones? How do you feel while that is happening? Would you like it to be different?
I'm not suggesting that you and everyone around you stop using technology. Instead, as a first step, pay attention to how you feel in relation to your and other people's use of technology both during the holidays and after them. This awareness of how you feel may reveal other options as well as your own power to change how you behave.
The desire to record good times for future enjoyment is natural and understandable. When I was growing up in the 1970s, a couple of people would usually have a camera at a family gathering. Once or twice during the event, those people would take out their camera, ask people to look at it and smile, and a few pictures would be taken. Sometimes — but not always — someone would have a video camera and record people for 5-10 minutes. That was the full extent to which we recorded our experiences. We might see those pictures at a later date when we visited the family member with the camera again.
Looking back on it, although those family events had their share of fights and other kinds of negative interactions, I do remember feeling like we were all present with each other in a way that is much rarer today. To put it simply, when people arrived for a dinner, we all arrived with the intention to be there and not anywhere else. That is how we felt and acted.
Find a Compromise
One suggestion for striking a middle ground between the constant social media use that is common these days and a complete ban on it is to designate one or more people as the photographers and social media posters during events. For example, you might all agree that two people are to be responsible for taking photos throughout an evening and posting them on social media. You might also want to consider limiting the amount of photos and videos taken as well as the social media posts made to certain times during the night while prohibiting such activity while everyone is sitting together at the table eating a meal.
As always, these are just suggestions. Do what feels best for you and talk to your family members and friends about this.
To be fair, s
ocial media can have some positive effects too. It may help you communicate with distant family members and attend an event with them. You might enjoy seeing how your friends are doing and feel more connected with them as a result. Social media holds the great promise of sharing experiences, and I don't suggest that you shut yourself off from them.
However, many people agree that social media use has become so frequent and dominant at family events that its disadvantages that have come to outweigh its benefits in these situations.
I encourage you to apply mindfulness to how you feel about the presence of social media and recognize that you have the power to change how, when, why, and where you use social media during the holidays. As a result, you'll be able to use it while remaining as connected as possible.