Recording my life on or offline - Why is it so hard?

I like to think of myself as someone who has been exceptionally into the landscape of social media. I've kept track of nearly every social media network since the days where you'd see a new photo sharing app show up every week. It was an amazing time. It was a sad time. Amazing as people attempted different ways of capturing life, and sad as each faded out to leave us with the "big few". Throughout it though, one thing remained constant. My inconsistency in being able to consistently capture my life using any of these networks.

If you analysed my history based on social media, you'd probably write a book "Adnan Issadeen: Piecing together the broken chronicles". There are bursts of life events followed by months of silence. Wild pendulum swings in material I choose to share. And with all the ease there is in the world to share things to social media, I simply fail at it. Why? I tried to reflect on this and answer why this is so hard for me.

Instagramming life
I keep forgetting to do this. (Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

Do I really want to do it? Why?

For at least 60% of my life, yes. I don't want to share the personal moments of me with my family. But do I want to share that I went out to some place to grab some Ice cream? Yes. Yes I do. Narcissistic as it may seem, for an introvert such as myself, passively updating friends and family on what my days look like is actually a fun thing to do. I can't imagine being in a group chat or even a 1:1 chat and actively sharing bits and pieces of my day. It feels too close.

After reflecting on those questions, I had to dig deeper to try and understand this contradictory behaviour in me.

What does my normal non social media behaviour look like?

Smartphones are wonderful things these days. The most useful feature? The always with you camera. It turns out I use the camera very little. My wife has even pointed it out to me; when we compare how many moments she captures of the baby and myself together vs the moments I capture of her and the baby together, the numbers tell an entirely different story from reality. Look at our cameras and it might seem like only I spend time with the baby given how few photos I've taken of her with our son. But it goes further than that. Even prior to baby, and prior to marriage, at every turn in life I seem to have not had actually captured many moments in life.

It turned out that my non social media persona also had problems with following up on wants.

Maybe I don't really want this as much as I believe?

I feel conflicted here. In a really strange 1st world problem kind of way. I feel sad that so much of my life has happened and I haven't even documented it for myself personally. I can never seem to remember to take a phone out of my pocket when witnessing a moment to capture it.

I've told my wife at times that I prefer to witness the moment with my eyes and not let anything interrupt it. Many times, when the moment is over though, I'll secretly wish to myself that I had video recording contact lenses that could have caught it. But I don't. And the moment passes on as part of my memories.

The hidden dangers of "recording" moments

As a 16 year old, I meditated a lot. I engaged in meditation daily for 20 minutes and it's a habit I carried into my twenties. I'm proud of my ability to be in the moment. To truly be immersed in every moment without care for any troubles or chores there might be waiting somewhere else. It's an incredibly liberating feeling to go to a meetup of friends or a walk in the park and not have your mind mulling over any stresses. When it's time to deal with the stresses my mind jumps in, and when the time is up I cleanly separate from it. I don't want to lose that.

I don't want to lose my presence in moments as a result of me picking up the phone and capturing photos and posting it to an Instagram story. I worry that that act will disconnect me from the scenes in front of me eventually, making me a slave to the search for the "Instagrammable" moments. That would suck all the emotion out of life and I have real personal examples of this.

As a rule, my wife and I do not post any pictures with our son in it to social media. As a result, I've taken hundreds of photos of him running around with no care given to what's in the photos. Suffice to say there can be a lot of mess in the background. This is in stark contrast to pictures of my cooking efforts, or smoothies that I've made. The table is neatly cleared for the shot and the lighting is as right as it can be. I know that in each of these cases, the pictures never truly reflected reality. To lie feels dirty, and this certainly feels like lying.

I also did my homework to understand any studies done on the topic, and the most important thing is that once photos are taken, if we don't go back to interact with them, the emotions and the memories themselves will eventually get washed out. This is why I suppose it's different when working with a dedicated camera. The only way you can really see what you took is to sit in front of your computer and engage with each photo. Even if you aren't touching it up, there's a near 100% guarantee that you'll interact with every individual picture.

Based on my readings, I realised that even if I become more regular in recording my life, I probably don't want to invest time into pushing things "real time". This is an important one for me since at the start of the reflection exercise, the level I wanted to get to most was to be more active on Instagram stories. I don't want this now. Unless I'm approaching it with the intent to upload things later, I don't think I'll be adding to my stories much anymore. Even then, I worry that the cognitive effects will settle in and change how I experience things by making me question if my captures are "Instagram story compatible". Overall, I'm not sure that being cognizant of the moment while also recording life on social media is truly compatible and I have seen no studies that suggest it would be.

End result? For the present time at least, I will not be changing anything about how I post to or interact on social media since I worry that will subconsciously change my ability to enjoy moments. This almost directly contradicts what I said above when answering the question "Do I really want to do this? Why?". I just have to live with the fact that for the moment, my want to passively update friends and family will need to take a back seat.

Should I invest myself in this deliberately?

Fitness. Programming. Chess. Writing. There are lots of things in life that if we want to be good at, we need to invest ourselves in it deliberately. The difference between those though and recording my life is that the former are examples of skillful tasks. There's no evidence to say that recording one's life is task of skill. But, what if I treated it as such?

What if I just said, "I'm bad at documenting my life and I want to be 'good' at it"?

What if I defined the level I needed to be at to say that I am "good" at it? This sounds like a worthy experiment to try.

What does it mean to be good at recording my life?

Since I really want to get over this I want to define my parameters of being good at recording my life. After reflecting on this for much longer than I should have, this is what I came up with:

  • Capturing the story after the fact
  • There's always a new moment. A new story. More than anything, I want to start capturing these in a way that I can go back and look on. While being aware of the moment I also want to take time at the end of it, maybe when I come back home or when I have a moment's break, to record it as a story. This will ensure that I go back and interact with whatever material I capture.
  • Thus the rule here is, I cannot capture passively. Every time I capture things, I should go back later on and try and piece it together in a way that really captures my emotions and memories as I experienced it.
  • Daily consistency
  • This is the goal that ensures I can cement in the above. If I'm not capturing things, then I certainly have nothing to go back to and interact with.

The method and the reward

I bought my wife a point and shoot camera for her birthday (and partially our anniversary too since they are within a day of each other). She takes most of her photos on her new iPhone now since it's always with her. I think I'm going to start carrying the camera around with us at all times and make it a point to use it more often and effectively. If I can do this for a year and achieve both parameters above, I'll reward myself with a DSLR or something more advanced :D.

someday maybe this will be mine (Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash)

A final side note on this reflection

Did this seem like a bit of a ramble? It had to. This is what reflecting looks like. Questioning our motivations and being aware of any contradictions in our life requires deliberately dedicated time and thoughts that will go back and forth with changes as each piece of self understanding falls into place. Time that is fleeting in this world of 140 characters and pithy clickbait headlines. When I started out on this, my mind was set on improving my recording of life ON social media. At the end of it, I realised I'd have to remove social media from the equation.

If you've read this far without skipping AND you post anything to Instagram and/or Facebook, I'd love to share a question:

Why do you post what you post on social media?

I encourage you to take time, days even, to reflect on that. The pictures, the videos, the emotionally charged updates. Why? Even if the answer is "for teh likes", that's ok. The important thing here is to be aware even if we might not be comfortable with the final answer. And once you do have an answer, feel free to share it here. I'd love to converse with you :)

Posted on July 03 2017 by Adnan Issadeen