Hitched: I’m So Glad I Didn’t Have An “Unplugged” Wedding

It’s in The New York Times, so I guess “unplugged” weddings are a thing, at least among the handsome and affluent people who see themselves in the Paper of Record’s style section.

In a column called “This Life” (imagine saying it the way you’d say “This guy! Can you believe this guy!?” and columns wondering whether families should “create a mission statement similar to ones many companies use to identify their core values” become a lot easier to stomach), writer Bruce Feiler tackles the issue of the “unplugged” wedding. That’s when people getting married are either so important and famous that selling a blurry cell phone shot from the back row of the ceremony might score guests a four-digit payment from Us Weekly, or when people getting married think that they are.

What happens: guests are told to surrender their smartphones, cameras, spy pens, sketch pads and uncommonly good photographic memories to an “attendant” before the ceremony, because they cannot be trusted to properly appreciate the gravity of the event with technology in-hand.

I joke, but barely. I understand not wanting people to be photo-flashing away relentlessly during a somber religious ceremony. That’s as annoying on any given Sunday as it is at a wedding. Asking guests to give your wedding the courtesy and restraint they’d give the average film release? Totally reasonable.

But demanding guests wholly surrender their technology during the wedding — especially during a festive reception — reaches deep into the territory of trying to force a particular affective experience on others, as if a wedding day is such a magical and important event that regular people can’t take it all in without the careful direction of the couple.

Of all the reasons Feiler gives for folks wanting to nix the technology at weddings, the most laughable is from families who “want to conceal how much they’ve spent” from lesser humans who might see the photos later on. Because the hardest thing about being insanely wealthy is having to pretend you are not insanely wealthy so that other people don’t start to think you’re insanely wealthy, unless those people came to your wedding, in which case they should know that you are insanely wealthy. Tip: what’s easier trying to hide the fact that you spent an assload on your wedding? Not spending an assload on your wedding! Problem. Solved.

I’m just saying: if you’re not a card-carrying Kardashian and people taking photos of your wedding is your tippy-top concern on your wedding day? You win at weddings and you can go home now.

If Patrick and I had banned smartphones and cameras from our wedding, his mom wouldn’t have been able to watch the ceremony streamed live to California. I wouldn’t have been able to spend the morning after, waiting on our flight to Hawaii, flipping through my friends’ Twitter and Facebook feeds to see how they experienced the evening, and taking in all the funny shit that happened while I was off playing bride, daughter, niece, friend, hostess, and general social butterfly.

We wouldn’t have a record of our first karaoke performance as husband and wife. In fact, I hadn’t even realized our friend James had filmed it at the reception, and spent weeks regretting that I had no record of our rendition of “Brandy.” I was ecstatic when he finally sent over the iPhone video.

So no, I’m not only glad we didn’t ban technology from the event, but a little disappointed we didn’t do more to encourage it. I’ve been to weddings where the couple and friends came up with a wedding Twitter hashtag, so that the disparate groups of guests can share jokes and feelings in the moment. I think that’s a brilliant bit of digital scrapbooking.

But look, I’m a social technology enthusiast of the highest order. I don’t think Facebook and Twitter transport most people out of the real world and into some sterile digital sphere, devoid of meaningful human interaction. I think most people use Facebook and Twitter and Vine the way they use their mouths and their arms and their facial expressions: to comment on and create their experiences of the world around them.

I think it’s presumptuous and even a little bit cruel to tell someone they can’t snap a shot of the groom walking down the aisle, that they have to wait for the “official” photographer. And it’s always nice to see someone’s sushi-heavy Instagram feed interrupted with a detail shot of a nice bouquet or Nana doing the Humpty Dance.

I see great value in the ephemeral residue of life in the digital age. I think a poorly lit photo of a banquet table littered with empty glasses can be beautiful, perhaps not always aesthetically, but because of the celebration it represents. A thoughtfully composed shot of a beautiful place setting? That’s fine. But when I see an Instagram shot of a jacket strewn over the back of a chair or a pair of heels abandoned on a banquet table, taken by someone’s tipsy second cousin? That says more to me than any mitigated, professional photo could. We don’t tweet and text message and Vine and Instagram in spite of our memories, but rather we use those technologies to bookmark them and bring them into focus.

For couples, surrendering control on their wedding day can be hard, particularly they’ve been badgered for months, even years, by a wedding industrial narrative that says the only real wedding is a perfect wedding. I understand the tendency to want to micromanage everything, right down to Grandpa’s new Android, but at some point, it’s best to let go.

Digital technology and social media hardly ruined my wedding — in fact, they made it terabytes better.

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