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The Joy of an Unexpected Trip Down Memory Lane

Smart phones get a bad rap, and rightly so. They contribute to self-isolation, feed our desire to know now, and make it easy to avoid eye contact with other human beings. They distract us from interacting with the world.

During a boring meal, I resist the temptation to check the Phillies’ score, read that article I bookmarked from Twitter, and most importantly, see who just made my phone vibrate. There is a strange irony at play: the very device we use to seek connection through social media, texting, and talk can actually make us feel more alone.

There is one feature of the phone, however, that consistently makes me smile, and recently led to a memorable moment with my daughter.

I noticed that my Gmail account was close to capacity, so I decided to search for emails that contained large files. The results revealed several videos I’d taken six or seven years ago, most of my kids during family vacations.

In the first one, my daughter, now almost thirteen, was sitting at a family dinner eating pizza. She was three-years-old, flipping her hair around, pretending to host a Food Network show about the half-eaten pizza on her plate. “Tonight we have a love-a-ly slice of pizza and just a little bit of salad here at the Rockower dinner.” I was shocked and thankful that I had this memory to savor.

I called my daughter into the room and we watched the video several times, laughing at the wild hair, the high-pitched voice, and the uninhibited way she acted at a public restaurant. During our third viewing, I watched my daughter watching herself. She gesticulated along with her younger self, mouthing the words, recapturing the joy of the moment.

She’s almost a teenager now, and though she still bounces around the house like Tigger, there’s more reservation, more time spent alone. From the look in her eye, I could tell she respected her younger self and, maybe, longed for the freedom to be silly and impervious to the judging eyes of others.

I have a video camera, and we use that to record sporting events, birthdays, and other events. But I don’t carry it everywhere, and it doesn’t allow me to capture moments of spontaneity. So, while I’ll admit that my smartphone causes plenty of frustration, it does have its place in contributing to our virtual family photo album. After discovering the video of my daughter in my email, I began combing through our external hard drives. The birthday, soccer, and gymnastics videos were all labeled and predictable—and all filmed with our dedicated video camera.

But I also found many unnamed clips taken by earlier iterations of the iPhone. These videos, each one a trip down memory lane, made me smile most.

They captured moments of impromptu hilarity and kid conversation that a planned video taken with a handheld video camera would never allow. Like the one of my three-year-old son commenting on the construction workers outside of our house: “Why aren’t those guys working? They are just standing awound. They should be using the articulated dump truck.”

During our first trip to Hersheypark with our four-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, we took the kids on a tour of Chocolate World. When my daughter saw the dancing cows, her face lit up and she said, “This is the best day of my life. This is so beautiful. I am getting tears.” In the next moment, her brother mumbled, “Get me off of this haunted chocolate ride.”

There were many more, and soon my whole family was crying with laughter, with my kids saying, “Play that one again. Look how small I was!”

Maybe we should be carrying around pocket-sized video cameras that don’t allow connection to social media, games, and YouTube. Or, maybe we should just be more disciplined about how we use our devices. It’s not unlike many other things in life—balance is key. It’s ok for me to check the Phillies score once, but I shouldn’t be refreshing the page every minute. The Twitter article doesn’t need to be read immediately, and text messages from friends can typically wait—if it’s emergency, they will call.

But I will continue to have my phone handy, ready to make videos of memorable moments. In fact, I cannot wait to show that Hersheypark video to my kids’ prom dates. I might even capture that moment on video to show my grandkids one day.

David Rockower is a teacher and freelance writer. He has published articles in The Washington Post, Education Week, Your Teen for Parents, and is a regular columnist for State College Magazine. His book is titled The Power of Teaching Vulnerably: How Risk-Taking Transforms Student Engagement.

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