You see it all the time: from the latest Beyonce performance to the post-primary speeches of presidential candidates. Everyone’s holding up their Canon cameras, Droids, and iPhones to capture what’s going on, eager to save it for later. Even after we upload the files to YouTube and Facebook, is it to savor it for later? Is it for reference, just in case we need to revisit what we saw? Or is it that we can only see something if it comes through an LCD screen?

Daniel Gulati recounts an experience of holy matrimony I once thought was insulated from a device’s intrusion in his recent post on Harvard’s Business Review blog :

The unthinkable happened at a friend’s wedding last month. As the groom was asked to confirm his desire to accept the bride as his lawfully wedded wife, he held up his hand, as if to say “wait a minute.” The audible gasps among the attendees turned to relieved chuckles as he pulled out his iPhone in the middle of the vows. He was tweeting, “I Do,” to his hundred or so followers.

It begs the question: is everything so important that we have to capture it? Or do we capture it in order to define it as important [because we don’t know what is important anymore]?

With the ability to capture everything, there’s the urge to do so, to follow suit. We’re scared that if we don’t capture a celebrity sighting, or the way the lights look at the outdoor concert, or the laugh-out-loud good times you had with friends late into the night, we won’t remember it — it’ll lose importance. So we capture it to codify its importance.

It seems the visceral experience is too much for our senses. We seem dulled to the unembellished veracity of our experiences – no fanfare, no awe-inspiring color themes, no interactive interfaces. Oh, eating this feast with friends, it’s just us and the food… no flashy colors, no nifty appearing mechanisms, no “share” button”. It’s just us.

Yes, it’s just you all, now. Right now is the only moment you have. The scarcity of time in and of itself should compel us to be fully present, instead of stalling the appreciation for later, for our timelines and newsfeeds we we log on, upload, and perk up with the numbered notification flag in Facebook’s navigation bar. Leave your phone in the pocket. Learn how to have a conversation. Be in the moment.

We don’t trust ourselves to be present in any moment; we end up desensitizingĀ ourselves by separating ourselves from the experience through our devices.

Or do we not know how to be present in our experiences, so much so that we have to defer the cognitive energy of being present for a later date? To capture that performance on your phone means you can watch it at your leisure… so that when we are in our homes watching the video, we can transplant ourselves back to that moment, to give in to our cravings of escapism from the daily grind of work, media, advertising, interaction, commuting, eating, sleeping, and repeat.

Is it from that place of discontent? Of wanting to defer any angst we may feel about our daily lives by browsing our phone’s gallery and pressing play? Is it to have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in it later by watching it on our phone’s screens? Instead of actually being present, being alive to our senses and soaking up everything about that moment? Instead of living in our imagination once we recollect that experience?

We don’t have our imagination — nor do we cultivate it. We don’t give our brains the credit of having a metaphysical sensation or detailed sensory memory. We don’t train our minds to be present and SEE, not just look, to FEEL, and not just touch.

It’s truth: we need to stop capturing and start experiencing. If it is this fear of not having exhilarating, uplifting experiences for perpetuity that drives us to capture, maybe we need to have more of them, and more frequently. Go to the outdoor concert series, visit the museums, have more conversations with friends, practice mindfulness, meditate, spend time at the park just laying in the grass looking up at the sun.

“If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.” John Erving’s words ring truer than ever before. Give yourself the credit to be capable of courageously stepping out of inertia and fear and into a full life of uplifting experiences, on a regular basis.

Then you’d have real life to back you up, not the external harddrive you’d need in order to hoard all those videos and photos of infrequent, yet transcendent experiences.

Stop Documenting, Start Experiencing | Harvard Business Review Blog