How to Document the Present

At the start of this year I “went off” social media, by which I mean I deleted the apps off my phone. I was hoping this would be the answer to the growing anxiety I experienced throughout 2017. On Instagram, I couldn’t stop refreshing my feeds, scrolling obsessively until a photo repeated and I completed the cycle. On Twitter, there is no end to the cycle, the tweets just go on and on and on and the only way to end it is to physically throw your phone out your window and pray it doesn’t reanimate and seek vengeance on your dramatic-ass.

But the main issue I identified with my Instagram usage was that it was making me less present. Anywhere I went, anything I did, I immediately thought of how I would frame it for Instagram. Not so much in an influencer, #vanlife type of way, but as a writer and funny person. And yes, partial vanity. Mostly that meant me laboring over my caption for an embarassingly long time (which also, sadly, includes the time spent choosing the right emoji). And then the times I wasn’t able to take a photo I’d feel bad about it and the photo/caption-that-could-have-been would haunt me. People joke that if it didn’t post to social media, it didn’t really happen, but I bought into that.

I also thought my social media time was killing my productivity. I wanted to write more and cutting out mindless scrolling seemed like a step in the right direction. So I went cold turkey on Instagram, and tapered off my Twitter and Facebook use. But I picked a weird year to stop social media and stop writing non-fiction.

Actual footage from my first time inside a limo this weekend.

I’m getting married in a month and it turns out it’s more involved than I thought! But not too involved because the wedding industrial complex doesn’t own me! Also it turns out, the urge to document this important year is strong. Not because I want to brag to the world now but because I want to remember it in the future. A few months ago when I was “not on Facebook” I was served a sponsored post from The Atlantic, an article titled “The Value of Remembering Ordinary Moments.” In it, the author discusses a 2014 study that proved “even simple interventions (e.g., taking a few minutes to document the present) could generate unexpected value in the future.”

It’s true for me. At least when I used Instagram I took photos. I’ve taken very few photos this year and when I look back in a year I won’t have anything to remember it by. The photos on my Instagram profile create a time capsule of the last 5 years or so in Chicago. I look at the photos and it makes me happy. Yeah, maybe they were slightly exaggerated scenes created for public viewing, but they showed my life and who I was then. Same with this blog, which I also stopped writing in when I switched my focus to fiction. It catalogues who I was throughout a very confusing, pivotal few years.

So now I’m back to wondering how I can find that happy medium. How do I document my life with semi-regular urgency? Will it be my words or photos or a combination of the two that, years from now, remind me what it was like to be 31? You have to have something, right? I will remember the wedding day but all those other little insignificant moments? I think my future self would like to revisit the weirdo I was versus the old weirdo I’ve become.

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