author sitting on a rock ledge on mountain top

Do Selfies Spoil the Present Moment?

When we got to the top of the mountain, I didn’t take my phone out of my knapsack. But my hiking companion did. To document our being there, at the modest summit, on a late August afternoon.

She asked me to sit on a rock ledge; I complied; she took my photo. I complied again when she turned the phone’s camera inwards and photographed us with our heads together. I politely offered to take her picture, then centered my friend in her phone’s video display with the surrounding valley as background. I tried to keep the four radio towers out of the frame.

The whole process took five minutes at most, minutes more concerned with remembering the present moment than being in it.

Annoying moments for me. I don’t like posing for photos, though I’ve learned to offer up a teeth-showing smile. The inauthentic smile conjures a memory of my orthodontist, Dr. Anton, who was rumored to slap uncooperative young patients. He is guiding a gag-inducing tray of purple gel into my mouth to make an impression of my snaggled upper teeth. A scene I need no photograph to remember. “Money well spent,” is what my mother always said about my years in braces.

I’m back on the mountain. We’re enjoying a snack and a short rest before heading back down.

I’m happy to have pictures once they’re taken. Hopefully my friend will remember to send the photos from her phone, and I’ll remember to download them to my laptop, then transfer them to my photo drive. Some months in the future, I may come across the shots of my friend in her pink sweater and yellow baseball cap and be reminded of our afternoon on the mountain where we ate big apples sitting on a ledge and threw the cores into the woods.

What if we hadn’t taken pictures? What if we’d gotten to the top and, without devices, enjoyed the view and our brief conversations with the other people there—the trio of tall young men who’d passed us up on the way up and the family—parents and some teenage kids—who arrived from the other direction. As they walked by, the father, pointing, said to the son, “I have a picture of you on that ledge when you were little.”

If we hadn’t taken photos, would we have better appreciated arriving at the top: the blue sky with just enough clouds, the gusty warm wind, the beech leaves covering the ground, the smell of spruce and peanut butter?

We left the remembering to the camera. Three photos, and now,  these few  words.