Okay, so there's this word: "unplugged". You may have heard it in the context of an Eric Clapton album, or perhaps as an explanation for why the ice cream in the freezer has melted. But you also may have heard it in association with weddings, and that's what I want to talk about today.
An unplugged wedding is a relatively new thing, but that's mostly because the problem that it solves is also a relatively new one: namely, technology. See, just about all of us carry these little computers around in our pockets all day long, these magical machines that can surf the net and play movies and games and take photos. (I hear they can even send and receive phonecalls too, although really, who does that anymore?)
Alongside that, modern culture has steadily been encouraging us more and more to become documentarians, recording for posterity (whoever that is) the minutiae of daily life, from our children to our social life to that weird cloud formation in the sky to what we had for dinner. It's the urge to quite literally 'capture' the moment, to record the occasion just in case we want to re-live it again in future. Except there's a problem with that - how can you re-live something, if you never really lived it in the first place, observing from behind a digital screen rather than using one's own two eyes to be truly present in the moment?
And okay, maybe I'm sounding a little overly dramatic, but my general point stands I think, and especially so when that occasion is a wedding. You can come at this from a few different perspectives:
1) THE WEDDING COUPLE: They spent a lot of time and money planning this day, and they've chosen a group of their favourite people to share in it with them. So it's only fair that those invited guests actually lend them their full attention.
2) THE GUESTS: And speaking of those lovely guests, this is all for their benefit too. Because does anyone really want to be stuck behind a digital screen, rather than enjoying a lovely moment? No, I think we're just slaves to our devices sometimes, and forcing people to take a break from them for a short time is probably quite a liberating experience for those poor techno-thrawls.
3) THE PHOTOGRAPHER: And don't forget the poor photographer, that is, the real photographer, the one that someone has paid some real money for to do a real job. These guys are really good at what they do, but even they can't work miracles if there's a sea of miniature digital screens leaning into the aisle and obscuring the view.
So what's the solution here? Well, to loop back to the top, an increasingly popular option for couples is to opt for an unplugged ceremony. For me, I find the trick is that it's not something you make a big deal of. Perhaps have a sign as people arrive, but signs can be missed - the main job on this front is done by the celebrant, usually in the context of a few words of housekeeping just prior to the start of the ceremony (alternatively, the MC could make these announcements, if they happen to be speaking to everyone pre-ceremony). It's just a few sentences politely asking people to switch off, put away their smartphones and digital cameras, reassuring them that a professional photographer will be capturing the whole occasion, and giving them permission to sit back, lean forward, and be present with the people upfront, inviting them to come on a wee journey with the ones about to get married.
And it's possible that the way an unplugged wedding is received by guests may vary depending on the country, depending on the culture, not 100% sure on that front. But I can happily report that from a New Zealand perspective at least, every unplugged wedding I've done so far (which has also been almost every wedding I've done) has seemed to work out very well. And occasionally you'll get a couple of people who insist on keeping their camera handy just for a few choice shots, but honestly I reckon that's okay too. I'm not gonna stop the ceremony and point at Uncle Jack down the back discreetly framing up a shot, cos a) the celebrant isn't a policeman, and more importantly b) once you announce the unplugged thing then at the very least they're going to be a whole lot more conscious of not getting in the way.
Another thing to mention is the question of whether the unplugged-ness stops when the ceremony stops, or if you want it to continue on for the rest of the wedding day also. Practically speaking it's going to be impossible to police, but moreover, nothing else in the day is quite as formal as the ceremony, plus the photographer doesn't always stick around for all of it, so these are some things to keep in mind. But if it is something you're concerned about, maybe a compromise is to invite guests to keep their screentime to a minimum throughout the day, keep those little electronic boxes in their pockets as much as possible, and to encourage them to make the most of engaging face-to-face with the family and friends present. (But you've really got to know your crowd, and whether this will fly with the people you've got coming.)
(Oh and a final, related point in all this is about the guests sharing photos or video to social media. I might save that one for a future post.)
So there you have it, that's my quick take on unplugged weddings, how they're awesome, how they're a win-win-win for everyone involved, and how they allow everyone to be right there, in the room, with you, during the wonderful occasion that is your wedding ceremony. And now, if you'll excuse me, this melted ice cream won't eat itself...