Digital Manners: Is It a Faux Pas to Snap Cell-Phone Pics at Weddings?

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Feb. 21 2012 3:01 PM

Amateur Wedding Paparazzi (Transcript)

Should guests snap cell-phone photos at weddings and post them online?

(Continued from Page 1)

They’re turning it into “This is my own photographic statement about this event I was at.” You don’t see people going to the pew or the seat – wherever it is – and pulling out cameras. There aren’t 50 people with actual cameras taking pictures.

Cameras have been around forever and there’s never been a problem with, “Oh, my gosh, people starting photographing the ceremony.” So there is something holding people back from that. I think this new technology is so ubiquitous and easy that it’s broken down that barrier. You don’t have to tell people, “Please don’t bring a camera to the ceremony.”

Farhad:  Emily, I disagree. I’ve seen people pull out cameras at wedding ceremonies for a long time. I’m pretty sure I’ve done it myself. Not a phone. A camera.

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I think what’s different here is the fact it wasn’t a distraction because the photos weren’t instantly on Facebook, but now that the photos are being taken and posted, I think that’s the difference.

I think I recognize that worry that people go to event these days. It’s not just weddings. This happens at music concerts all the time. I notice that instead of enjoying the music, people will pull out their cell phones and either video record or audio record the thing that they’re watching.  The worry is you’re not enjoying the moment or experiencing the moment. You’re spending your time capturing the moment.

I actually don’t think it’s as big of a distraction as you say it is. It’s not loud. It’s not hurting the ceremony. I just don’t think that’s happening. I also think, for many people, the act of capturing is their way of enjoying it. When they see something that touches them, that moves them, that they want to remember, the way we do that now is to record it.

You’re right. Those pictures aren’t a gift to the couple, but I think they’re the way that people experience events these days. In the old days, you might have whistled at a concert when you loved something or put up your lighter. But nowadays, you record it. I think it’s just an automatic response to great things happening.

Emily:  Yeah, but when you hired the wedding photographer, there are tons of photographs and you get the proofs and you go through them and you choose the ones. You actually edit what your recorded memory will be of the experience. You don’t have 1,000 photographs in your wedding album; you’ve chosen the ones that best describe the moment. That’s lost when everyone there is creating their own album and disseminating it and turning your event into their event.

This is like recording your kid’s piano recital where everyone is standing in the way and jockeying each other. I used to record my daughter’s piano recitals. I’ve enjoyed them so much more since I’ve said, “You know what? This just going to be an event I experience now and I’m really going to sit here an experience it.” It’s fleeting. There are fleeting things that just exist in your memory.

How often are you going to be looking back at someone else’s wedding photos? It’s silly. Just experience this event.

Farhad:  I agree with you. I actually don’t record people’s wedding ceremonies. It’s funny to me that you see several people taking a photo – people who know each other – taking a photo of the same thing. People hand their own cameras to someone to take a portrait of a family or something.

It’s weird because they’re taking the same photo. With digital photography, there’s no ownership of the photo. If you take one photo, you can share it with everyone. There’s no “your photo” and “my photo.”

People still want the sense of ownership over pictures, I think. Even if digital photography allows us to pass pictures around easily, you want a sense that “this is my photo of your event.” Even if you’re not going to look at that photo again, I think it’s just people’s way of enjoying it.

If you think about it, if you pause and wonder why you’re pulling out your cell phone to record this event when so many other people are recording it, and when you’re probably not going to go back and care in five years time about this event, then it seems silly as you say.

Perhaps maybe people should pause before they pull out their cell phones and think about why they’re doing it. But I think people don’t think about it and I don’t think that’s so bad. It’s just their way of responding to a positive event.

Emily:  But I think it is bad. What our series is about is how technology crashes up against etiquette. You’re absolutely right. Before people pull out their cell phones and start taking pictures, you have this group go, “Oh, okay.” Then everyone is.

I think there are places you have to enforce certain norms. Your phone, you’re not going to text, you’re not going to talk, you’re not going to take photos. You are going to sit quietly and observe this event. You don’t have to capture everything.

Farhad:  You said another thing that I disagree with. You think this event your event – the happy couple’s event. But I guess I disagree that a wedding is that. It’s also the way that people remember that event. It’s part of their lives, too, and I think they’re entitled to try to remember your ceremony with their own documentation.

If you’re getting married, you can enforce a “no cell phone during the ceremony” rule. But I think a lot of your guests will feel offended by that, because I think that for them trying to be part of your ceremony is recording it.

Emily:  I think because this person has experienced what clearly is a shifting norm, I think people now should have, as people are being seated, when you go into a church – I’ve been to funerals where there are people as you’re walking in say, “Please make sure your phones are off.” I think at weddings, as you’re being walked to your seat, people should say, “And please turn off your phone and keep it away.” That’s it. You don’t have to make explanations. It’s obvious you don’t want phones to be ringing.

My bottom line is I’m against this. Turn off the electronics. Just let an experience wash over you. At the reception, it’s fine. Or ask the bride and groom, “Look, I’d love to take some amateur photos.” That’s okay. Not the ceremony.

Farhad:  My bottom line is it’s fine. You should be able to pull out your cell phone during a ceremony and record everything you see. It’s your memories. I think a bride and groom can ask their guests not to record the event. But I think they should know that people might be offended by that and might not have as good a time.

Emily: Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is digitalmanners@slate.com

Farhad:  You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week.  Go to www.Facebook.com/digitalmanners.

Emily:  And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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