Saturday, June 8, 2013

This Life: The ‘I Dos,’ Unplugged — This Life

“Now, would you please hand over your cellphone?”

Attendees were taken aback. Four hours without my PDA? All evening with no Twitter feed? What happens if the baby sitter calls? The attendant smiled and said, “Perhaps you recall the announcement in the invitation?”

Michael, for the record, is not a celebrity, like the former National Basketball Association star Michael Jordan, who recently banned guests from bringing their cellphones and cameras to his wedding to Yvette Prieto in Palm Beach, Fla. And Michael won’t be selling his wedding photos to People magazine as Kim Kardashian did when she and Kris Humphries were hitched, in another ceremony at which guests were told to leave their iPhones behind.

But he did want guests to be present during his ceremony, which he and his fiancé had made explicit in advance. “A wedding is about having people paying witness,” Michael later told me. “How can they do that if they don’t even hear your vows because they’re too busy taking pictures?”

The hottest topic in wedding circles this year seems to be whether to request, remind or even require that guests go cold turkey on technology during the event. Everyday couples (which is to say, not just those at risk of being exposed on TMZ) have started treating their guests like paparazzi, confiscating their cellphones and cameras, even throwing them out of the reception if they violate the no-posting-on-Tumblr announcement that the best man makes from under the wedding canopy.

Emily Post, text your office, time for a new mandate: Bridesmaids, thou shalt not Instagram photos of the bride drinking manhattans while getting her hair done in a bun.

On wedding chat boards, brides-to-be fret over the problem: their queries read like dystopian, post-Zuckerbergian versions of Dear Abby. A typical entry might sound like this: “I have a wonderful best friend and she means well, but you should see the photos of my sister’s wedding she put on Facebook — photo bombs of Grandma, drunk Uncle Louis making rabbit ears behind the preacher, my creepy cousin licking the cake, and a shot of the bride and groom contorting as if they needed to go the toilet. My fiancé hates cameras. I don’t want a thousand iPads in my face as I’m walking down the aisle. My florist said the flower girls will cry. Help! What do I do?”

The movement has even picked up a memorable moniker: “unplugged weddings.”

So, what’s behind this social anxiety? And what are some possible remedies?

Bryan Rafanelli, a luxury event planner in Boston whose high-profile wedding clients have included Chelsea Clinton and Matt Damon, said that the trend of asking people to hand over their cellphones began about five years ago, first among celebrities who wanted privacy. “But when we told our noncelebrity clients that it worked, they got turned on,” he said. “It makes them feel special.”

Mr. Rafanelli has found a novel compromise between Big Brother brides who want to ban phones, and tech-savvy guests who can’t live without them. He creates what he calls a cellphone coat check.

Guests deposit their phones at a station, which they can visit periodically, say, after the ceremony or during a boring toast. Mr. Rafanelli sets up sofas, where guests can check in with their children, trade on a stock tip or see how the Yankees are doing. Think of it as the supervised visiting lounge at a prison.

The idea of asking guests to turn away from their devices during the wedding itself is hardly new. Many religious institutions have long banned electronics during services. Rabbi Joe Black, of Temple Emmanuel in Denver, said that when he’s officiating weddings, he asks the couple when they arrive on the pulpit to turn and face the congregation.

Bruce Feiler’s latest book is “The Secrets of Happy Families.”

This Life appears monthly.

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