There's a notion in science known as the "observer effect" – simply put, it suggests that the very act of observing something can alter the material or process being observed. You can generally correct the observer effect by using more sensitive instruments or more sophisticated observation techniques.
But when you get to the quantum mechanical level where the objects are so tiny and so sensitive to change, you just have to take it for granted and factor it into your work.
I'm beginning to get to a point with my six-month-old son where I feel as though every baby milestone and interaction has this "observer effect" hanging over it. Regardless of what's going on – him trying avocado for the first time, for example, or executing his first thoughtfully balanced series of rolls across his play mat – my wife and I find ourselves torn by two oppositional impulses.
The first: to document each baby milestone, which means snapping smartphone photos or taking video, calling our parents, logging it in the baby journal, posting it to Facebook, ad infinitum. There is basically no limit to the number of ways we can document this stuff, and it seems as though a new one is being rolled out every quarter.
The other impulse is just to live it – to laugh, to look, and to talk in real time, not worrying too much whether we have some kind of permanent record of one very little, fleeting moment of joy and change among many.
What I've set up here is kind of an unfair comparison – it's very easy to say: "Yes! Live in the moment like a free-spirited being! Fight back against social media!" without considering that five or ten or fifty years out, Future Us will be very disappointed that Present Day Us didn't do a better job of capturing some of these moments for future enjoyment.
Add to that the fact that for a certain select slice of our Facebook friends (our parents, our other relatives, our friends with kids, our patient/tolerant/empathetic friends without kids) our baby-focused posts are the good stuff, the reason social media isn't just a depressing parade of political arguments and entreaties to raise and tend to imaginary plants and animals.
The simple fact is that there's no effective way to do both. If you're documenting, you're interfacing with technology, not a spouse or a baby. And if you're in the moment, you're not sharing the moment or saving the moment. But the moment's probably (and ironically) more precious for its own perishability.
This, of course, is life. If you want to do stuff, you sometimes have to short-change or ignore other stuff. (Example: My wife just waltzed through my home office carrying our baby and singing "Teatime at the Maidstone," a song that she wrote about the fictional Victorian club that our prim and fussy orange tabby cat supposedly belongs to. Rather than video-documenting the event, I carried on writing this post.)
And as is so often the case with life, the answer lies somewhere on the middle path – leaving enough of a record to keep family and friends in the loop and to have some books to flip through in the years to come without becoming buried in image files and logins. If we manage to find the precise mix, we'll let you know. In the meantime, we're winging it.