Couple asks guests to stay off phones during wedding ceremony

Posted at 5:49 AM, Jul 05, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — In a phone-toting, social media-mad age, you might think trying to keep your wedding offline would be crazy.

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Yet we did just that. We asked our guests to stay off their phones during our ceremony and other key moments. In doing so, we were hoping to make the celebration more enjoyable for everyone.

As fun as smartphones, Facebook and Instagram are, they've turned us into part-time documentarians. We think about how to photograph something as soon as we see it. And we distance ourselves from the feelings that go along with these moments.

"Everyone is kind of watching your entire big moment in life through a little 5-inch screen," says Lizzie Post, a great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post and president of the Emily Post Institute. "We're not really in the moment. We're recording the moment."

That's why my then-fiancée Amber Marlow knew what she wanted: an unplugged wedding, in which you ask guests to put away their phones for all or part of the festivities. She's a wedding photographer, and she's been recommending that clients go unplugged for years.

The fact that "put your phones away" is a style of wedding instead of an obvious point shows how much mobile phones have altered even the most emotional moments of our lives.

And as we worked to spread the word and plan our wedding, we learned even more about our relationship with technology — 'til death or logging out do us part.

Smartphones have become an all-or-nothing phenomenon: When one person at the table pulls out a phone, everyone else takes it as permission to do the same. Sometimes people start giving advice and tech support. The next thing you know, everyone is checking texts and social media.

Not to mention those horrible photos we regret the next morning. It's incredibly easy to take photos with your phone, which means it's incredibly easy to shoot subjects looking terrible, utterly intoxicated or twice their actual age.

And because of Amber's professional experience, we both knew what we didn't want to see in our wedding photos: guests glued to their screens as we walked down the aisle or holding up iPads to record the first dance. Phones can take good photos, but with their distracting glow, they don't make for good photos.

Not that we're pining for a simpler, low-tech way of life. Amber and I met on a dating website, and we used our smartphones to navigate to our venue.

Because we didn't want to annoy or inconvenience guests, we nixed phones only for our 15-minute ceremony, first dance and cake-cutting. We allowed phones during cocktail hour and the rest of the reception, and we told our guests they could take all the selfies they wanted. But we asked them not to post any photos of us online. We did hire a professional photographer to capture the evening for us, including the ceremony. We wanted to make sure her photos were full of smiling faces, not screens.

We made our request gently, but often. Maybe a little more often than we needed to. We mentioned the unplugged-ness of our wedding in our invitations and explained it on our wedding website. But we were careful not to make threats or demands, and we never thought about asking people to hand over their phones.

A funny pattern emerged: Our 20- and 30-something friends, the supposedly tech-addicted millennials, thought ditching phones was a great idea.

"I don't like them controlling my life," says our friend Katie Morse, a social media professional.

It was a tougher sell for my mom and my aunt, both in their 60s and relatively new to technology. They just wanted to show us off on Facebook.

It's the same generational dynamic that can make social media exasperating to people who have older relatives as Facebook friends. People who've spent a lot of their lives online have internalized a certain kind of etiquette, a sense of when it's proper to contact someone or share a photo. An older relative without that sensibility might appear ... a little overenthusiastic.

We sympathized with my mom. Some of her best friends couldn't attend, and she wanted to include them. But if we let one person start taking and posting photos of us, everyone would do it.

Dorian D'Angelo, who works in marketing for a financial firm in New York, had a different reason for banning smartphones at her wedding in 2010: She and her husband weren't able to invite all their friends and didn't want anyone to feel hurt when they see party photos on social media.

"They would wonder 'Why were they invited and I wasn't?'" she says.

Figuring that our guests wouldn't feel the need to take selfies if they had a chance to take better pictures, we set up a photo booth with a beautiful backdrop. It was busy all night. There's a photo of some of my friends carrying me sideways. Thanks to champagne, I don't quite remember why that happened.

While D'Angelo had to confront one guest who ignored the ban, but agreed to delete the posted photo, our guests honored our requests.

A lot of them even abandoned phones for the entire party, even when they didn't have to. Later, they thanked us and said that made the day more enjoyable. Freed of the urge to reflexively document everything they did, they soaked up the event itself and appreciated the work we had put into it. The dance floor was packed for most of the night.

Back in our room, I marveled at the fact that I was married — and that I hadn't touched my phone for about eight hours and hadn't missed it.

My wife marked the occasion by picking up her phone to take a photo of our ringed hands. She posted the photo, and we put our phones back down.