The filters we hide behind.

I was in Orlando, Florida, recently doing a couple workshops. I had the good fortune of being able to visit one of the more famous theme parks where I happened to watch a light show just after sunset. It was a remarkable sight. More remarkable still was something I witnessed as I took in the dazzling show that unfolded in front of me.

I couldn’t help but notice the hundreds of people standing around me, watching the light show with me. Except that a good 70-80% of them were not actually watching the light show. They were using their phones to record the light show.

In other words, they were not in fact watching the show. They were watching their tiny screens as they taped the show.

They missed the show.

But I’m certain this minor detail was lost of these non-watching onlookers.

What mattered most to them, I surmised, was to have recorded the event so they could share it with friends when they returned home, or to upload it to their social media as testimony to their visit to this theme park.

This is not a new phenomenon. Chances are you’ve seen others doing this same thing at a sporting event, a concert, some gathering. Perhaps you yourself are guilty of this crime against seeing.

Nor am I the first to comment on this trend. It is a sad fact of our culture. Too many of us prefer to record an event artificially rather than to stop and record it really with our eyes and our ears and our brains. This is a form of laziness, and our sensory perceptions atrophy as a result. We fail to wake up to what is real.

This practice matters to me on many levels. First as a human who strives daily to be in the moment and aware of the world around me. But also as a teacher of writing and a teacher of creative briefs, a document that demands of its authors that they be as fully awake and present as they can be. A brief is not a form to be filled out. It is a thinking-person’s document. It asks questions its authors do not automatically have the answers to. It asks open-ended questions on purpose.

My friend and former boss at Team One Advertising, Rob Schwartz, now Chair at TBWA New York Group, noted recently in an essay that he and his wife instructed their children not to be careful when they left the house, but to “pay attention.”

He’s right, and as I watched these reality thieves recording a stunning live show in front of them, I couldn’t help but wonder why they chose a filter over reality. Why would anyone place a tiny device that minimized the wonder in front of them and prefer it to the thing itself? They were not paying attention.

I don’t understand it. But it is a real thing. It damages us.

I can see the influence of these filters on creative brief writers and it upsets me. But as much as that is true, I am far more sad for the diminishment of our humanness when we opt for artificiality.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Put your phone down and chose life.

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