Life Through a 5×3″ Window

This past weekend, I—like thousands of other Nashvillians—headed for higher ground to get a glimpse of Music City’s famous fireworks display, without having to fight the masses downtown.

Danny and I trekked up to Fort Negley—a former Civil War fort atop a huge hill, with a sweeping view of the river and downtown. This is one of our favorite places to go for walks in town, and it’s usually fairly secluded… So while we knew the city would be packed with tourists for the weekend, we’d hoped we might be among just a handful of locals who thought to watch the show from this often-forgotten spot.

We were mistaken.. As it turns out, the Friends of Fort Negley group (a historical preservation society) had advertised the hilltop as a great option to watch the fireworks. They were charging $20 a head or $30 a household to hike the hill that night.

Nevertheless, by the time we’d fought traffic and found a parking spot, I felt stubbornly committed to making it up to the fort. So we paid our 30 bucks and set off up the trail.

On our way up, we realized we’d be joining probably a hundred or so other people at the top—more than we’d hoped for, but still only a fraction of the traffic downtown saw, so I considered it a win.

As we walked, we got a little show of our own.

Teenagers trying to hop the gates of the fort to avoid the admission charge. A young mother who must have had at least seven kids with her, peeking over her shoulder while taking sly sips of something from her purse. The occasional strains of country music wafting up from Broadway.

Eventually, we found a spot with a great view and some elbow room. We set up our camp chairs and sipped our own drinks—East Nashville Beer Works Honey Blonde Ale—and waited.

Within just moments, the Nashville skyline was awash in flaming blossoms of red, orange, white…

…And our hilltop was awash with little blue squares of artificial light.

What I’m about to say is probably going to make me sound like a Luddite. So let me first remind you—I’m voicing this grievance as an Instagram-loving 20-something who uses my phone to connect with friends and grow my career every single day.

I’m not anti-technology. I’m not even 100% anti-crappy-fireworks-photos. We’ve all got hobbies, right?

But I can’t pretend it didn’t bother me to see SO many people (of all ages) watching the fireworks through their phone screens.

We’d all paid $20-30 and hiked up a hill to get this view, at this precise moment. And yet, a good 50-60% of the people around us were ‘going live’ on Instagram to broadcast the fireworks to their followers. Turning their backs to the skyline in an effort to get the perfect selfie. Texting friends or scrolling Facebook while the fireworks went off overhead.

On the one hand… It’s a silly thing to gripe about. It’s just fireworks, after all, and they were just having a good time in their own way.

But the experience put knots in my stomach. It’s nagged at me this week, because I can’t help but wonder… How much of our lives are we viewing through our little 5×3” screens?

How many moments are we completely missing because we’re so concerned about documenting, sharing, or looking interesting online?

Especially with all the time we’ve spent at home/disconnected from folks over the past 18 months—how addicted have we gotten to “performing life” on our phones, instead of just living it?

This is getting long, so I’ll get off my soapbox. But if you—like me—are someone who winds up spending a lot of time on phones/computers for work… I want to challenge you to detach from those things as much as possible over the weekend.

Go for a walk around the block—and don’t bring your phone. 

Do something fun with your spouse, partner, or friend—and don’t bother taking pictures of your food or checking in on social media.

It probably sounds silly or dramatic, but this is something I’ve challenged myself to do over the past couple of months… And honestly, it’s made a huge difference for me in terms of my day-to-day happiness, sense of purpose, ability to focus, and mental health.

If you do decide to give this experiment a try, I’d love to hear how it goes!

In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful, restful week doing whatever makes you happy. (Yes, even if that’s scrolling on Instagram or TikTok. I’m not judging, promise.)

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