Below is the unabridged version of an essay that recently appeared on Clementine Daily. You can read the published piece — and the four specific tips that go along with it — right here.
Perhaps more than any other season, the holidays are profuse with picturesque moments and sparkling social engagements. We don sequined dresses and cranberry-colored lipstick for office parties and New Years fetes; we gather with family for giggle-giddy ice-skating outings and sprinkle-shimmered, flour-dusted cookie-decorating marathons. Everything seems to glimmer with specialness, perhaps mostly because of its rarity. During the other 11 months of the year, dust settles on the back-closeted pair of red satin stilettos, deemed appropriate only at Christmassy soirees, and our festive memorabilia stay contained to storage: the heirloom gingerbread recipe is shoved deep in the cupboard to be dug out only in December, still sticky from the year before, and the wet wax dries on the menorah as it nestles neatly in its box.
As we unearth the sequestered glitz and rare rituals, it’s no wonder that we crave ways to capture it all. We frame our picturesque moments in smartphone pictures and share our social celebrations on social media to herald the seasonal cheer, as if subconsciously recognizing that the hoopla won’t last for long. We want to preserve it. We want to solidify the significance of the simple magic; to glorify the deliciousness of the decadent desserts; to freeze the snow-dappled scenery in a digital icebox, where it can twinkle for eternity.
It’s human nature to compile and refine souvenirs of ephemeral moments. We’re born memory-collectors. Diary-keeping first became popular during the Renaissance as a way to record personal events and opinions, but the earliest known journals date back as far as the 2nd century. Even before photography developed in 1839 and gradually grew commonplace, scrapbooking was a cultural craze: in the early 1800s, people saved physical mementos from calling cards to newspaper clippings and pasted them into leather-bound albums.
In today’s smartphone-savvy world, the process is easier than ever. Our mobile devices are lighter and less cumbersome than diaries; they don’t require the scissors or glue of the scrapbook; they’re small enough to hold in one hand. To document our holiday festivities, we need only Instagram our tinsel-topped trees, share shots of our seasonal shindigs on Facebook, or Tweet that funny thing that Grandma said at Hanukkah Seder. Even Snapchat, despite its disappearing act, is a sort of preservation tool — as if recording a moment is a way to clutch it tighter, pin it down, and claim it as ours, if only temporarily.
Whether digital or physical, via methods advanced or ancient, our compiled memorabilia form our unofficial autobiographies. They’re our proof of existence and our comforting safeguards against the perpetual passage of time. But there’s a marked difference between the old modes of preservation and our modern memory-keeping customs, and not simply because today’s tend to happen on small screens.
Even in the digital age, but before the dawn of the smartphone, we had to deliberately grab our cameras when we wanted them. We had to sit down at our computers to post the photos online. We couldn’t simply click a button and press “send” while walking or talking or dancing or eating. Capturing came first, and sharing came later; the hobby was not so much a habit as an intentional afterthought.
Now, the public posting routine is so standard and instantaneous that it’s hardly a conscious decision; instead, it’s an automatic impulse. There’s a sense that important events aren’t saved to our memories unless garnered in gigabytes in the memories of our phones. Our mobile devices are less like tools and more like extra appendages, perpetually in our pockets or hands, always turned on.
According to a Gallup poll, 81% of us keep our phones nearby during almost all waking hours.  But various scientific research warns against this common cultural predilection. Increased smartphone use is linked with narcissism, neuroticism, and distraction. In one study, 44% of participants reported “a great deal of anxiety” at the proposition of one week of forced phonelessness.  In another, participants described feeling a loss of identity when separated from their phones, as if the devices weren’t just possessions, but extensions of the self. Blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety increased, too, when the subjects’ phones were out of reach. 
But perhaps most alarming in the holiday context is the undermining effect of cellphone presence on interpersonal relationships. In a 2013 study at Virginia Tech University, the simple visibility of a phone during an in-person conversation, whether held in-hand or placed on the table, curbed eye contact and made individuals more likely to “miss subtle cues, facial expressions, and changes in the tone of their conversation partner’s voice.” Participants reported less fulfilling conversations, diminished feelings of connectedness, and lower empathic concern. Interestingly, this impact was amplified in interactions between people who knew each other especially well. 
When we give our phones a seat at the family’s holiday feast, we dampen the emotional depth of the communal celebration. When we connect to Wifi at the New Years fête, we disconnect from our companions. We turn profound tradition into something Tweetable in 140 characters, and we squeeze intimate blessings into Instagrammed squares.
The holidays are intended as a cherished time of coming together: joining in revelry, gathering around sacred rituals, and laughing, lounging, and luxuriating with loved ones. So how can we stop our smartphones from interfering with our live experiences? How can we use them as they should be used — as tools, rather than unrestrained extra limbs? How can we savor and preserve the short-lived holiday magic without letting the screen time cut it shorter?
Here’s how: you can find four specific tips for a low-tech holiday right here on Clementine Daily.
Jenny P. says
love this! let’s try some of your ideas next week!