For his third birthday, my son had a surf-themed party at a way too cold beach in San Francisco. I’m sure he had created a self-image of how he looked in his rash-guard and shades as he balanced on a freshly waxed, beach-bound longboard. Like most parents, I felt compelled to go paparazzi on my son and his friends from the second we unloaded the car. And because he is a child of the digital age, my son followed nearly every snap of the camera with the same request: “Can I see the picture?”
Maybe it was a bad angle. Maybe I didn’t get his good side. Maybe he just didn’t have that surfer vibe. Whatever it was, the photo wasn’t all that cool. Given time to reflect (even the few days I used to get between my own childhood birthdays and my mom picking up a set of 4×6 prints at the local pharmacy), my son probably would’ve developed a version of that day that had him riding a giant a wave, looking like a cross between Laird Hamilton and Eddie Vedder. Instead, he pretty much looked like a landlocked three year-old on a beach-bound surfboard who was suffering from a rare — but particularly punishing — bad hair day.
The instant my son looked at the image, his imagination-driven perception of himself was replaced by a digital reproduction of the moment he had just experienced. He had a few seconds, not nearly long enough, to create his own internal version of what that moment looked — and by extension felt — like.