I was feeling a little bit ambivalent about our plan to head to the beach last Sunday. I knew the drive would be long and the traffic heavy, and there were items on my To Do list that would go undone for yet another week if we were out all day.
But as my two children reminded me, it’s a tradition. Every summer, we spend one afternoon with friends on the beach. And even though these particular friends live only three miles away from us the rest of the year and we generally see them several times a month, the annual meet-up during their Maine vacation is a tradition now ten years old. So no one wanted to miss out.
It turned out to be a perfect beach day, and none of the inconvenience mattered compared to a gorgeous afternoon of bright sunshine, dry air, tossing waves, and happy children on Boogie boards.
Not until we were driving home did I realize what was missing. How had I managed to overlook something so critical? I double-checked, and then triple-checked, but no: the proof was right there, painfully obvious in its absence.
It wasn’t my wallet or my phone or my purse, or either of my children, that I’d neglected to bring home from the beach with me. Instead, it was any technological record of the fact that we’d been there. Caught up in the fun of visiting with friends, watching the kids jump in the waves, and taking a long walk along the water’s edge, I’d forgotten to take a single photo. Or jot a Facebook post about what we were doing. Or tweet a witty 160-character description of the beach crowd. Or press a button on a virtual map to show just where we were.
My presence at the beach had disappeared as quickly as my footprints in the sand, all because in the spirit of the moment, I’d completely forgotten to press any buttons on any screens connected to any social media platforms or other digital networks.
If a tree falls in the forest….. I muttered to myself as I scrolled pointlessly through my phone just to be sure there weren’t any photos I’d somehow overlooked. If I didn’t snap it or post it or tag it or collocate it, how do I know it happened?
And for that matter, if friends can’t immediately show their appreciation for all the fun I’m having, am I really having the same amount of fun?
I knew it was a ridiculous concern. I’d been having fun for nearly four decades before Facebook even existed. And yet, I realized as I drove home from the beach, in the course of just a few years, my perspective had been somehow intractably altered. Posting on Facebook is like having an automatic cheering section behind you; suddenly everything you do seems worthy of enthusiastic acknowledgment, as if we are all toddlers learning to walk again. Photo of my kids on the last day of school. Hooray! Bon mot about the complicated but rewarding life of a freelance writer. Love it! Tongue-in-cheek and yet inexplicably poignant line about how happy I am to be celebrating 22 years of marriage. Go, you two, go!
If I can’t “share” it, how can I share it?, I wondered, even though I knew that not so long ago, this question wouldn’t have even borne semantic sense to me.
“How was the beach?” my husband asked as the kids and I arrived home.
“It was wonderful,” I said. “Everyone was sorry not to see you, though.”
“I learned how to use a boogie board,” my daughter reported.
“We ate lobster rolls,” my son added.
Oh, right, I remembered. This is how you share when you can’t “share.” This is how you communicate what happened when you don’t have photos, hashtags or links to help tell the story. You put it into words. I remember this.
When I woke up the next morning, there were no red flags on my computer screen telling me that a few dozen more people had “liked” my afternoon at the beach. In fact, it seemed as if no one except for me was even thinking about my afternoon at the beach.
So I wrote a note to our friends thanking them for a great day. And I reminded the kids of the boogie boarding and lobster rolls, and assured them we’d go back again next summer.
It’s a tradition, after all. And sometimes you really don’t need to crowdsource your experience to know you’ve had a good time.