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Digital divide disbands wedding aisle

By NICK BILTON The New York Times

This article was published August 3, 2014 at 2:54 a.m.

Welcome to your first Wedding 2.0.

Here comes the groom. Oh, look, there's the bride; doesn't she look lovely? The sound of an organ begins to fill the room. All standard fare, right? But wait, it gets better.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in matrimony," the priest, rabbi or minister says. "The bride and groom have asked you to use the same hashtag on photos shared to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook."

I've experienced variations of this at several recent weddings. Other times, hashtags are written in the wedding program, on table arrangements or whispered down the aisle.

The rest of the evening becomes a digital free-for-all: square oversaturated photos of the cake posted to Instagram; overheard moments from guests crumpled into 140-character balls on Twitter; and photos of the couple -- taken from every angle, including selfies -- shared on Facebook.

A tradition barely unchanged since your grandmother's grandmother was married has now been put through the social media washing machine. And wedding planners, photographers, brides and officiators are trying to figure out what it all means.

Rosemary Hattenbach, an event and wedding planner in San Francisco, said: "There are two different camps with these digital weddings. Some people inherently detest that kind of experience and want to keep it old school, pure and intimate. Then there are others that embrace it all and look at social media as an opportunity to get more photos of the wedding."

A few months after attending my first hashtag wedding, I was invited to a traditional ceremony (yes, wedding season is in full swing), where the bride sent out a flinty note to all the guests days before the event.

"Please do not post anything online," she wrote, noting that cellphones were strictly prohibited. "You are, however, welcome to make watercolors or use court-reporter sketches," the bride added jokingly, obviously trying not to sound too fussy.

That event, sans cellphones, was quite beautiful. During the ceremony, people clapped (with both hands) as the bride floated down the aisle. Guests listened attentively to the sermon. And at dinner, people did this very strange thing: They actually spoke to one another. Using their mouths. Not via text message or emoji.

But while the analog wedding was beautiful, I kept finding men hiding in the bathroom checking their email or World Cup scores. Toward the end of the night, I bumped into a group of women trying to hide behind the tent while they took a group selfie. (One woman proudly told me she had smuggled her smartphone in her bra.)

The ban on gadgets is understandable. Brides who choose a device-free ceremony have told me they don't want to walk down the aisle and see their loved ones peering back at them through screens.

For photographers, guests with cellphones cause even bigger problems. Jose Villa, a wedding photographer in Solvang, Calif., said frames that were once filled with smiling guests are now a scene of people's heads peering down at their phones.

For some couples, the cost of a wedding photographer, which can range from $6,000 to $15,000, can be too high, so they choose social media photos instead. But that leaves Aunt Gertrude and the rest of the guests with a lot of responsibility.

One maid of honor, who asked not to be named so as not offend her best friend, was recently tasked with promoting a hashtag among guests, but took it upon herself to subvert a possible disaster.

"It's an awful lot of pressure," the maid of honor said. "So rather than spend the whole night trying to capture that perfect moment, and feeling terrible if we missed it, all the bridesmaids pitched in for a wedding photographer as the couple's gift."

So what's a bride (or groom) to do? To hashtag or not to hashtag, that is the question.

"Right now there is the unplugged wedding versus the totally plugged wedding," said Cassandra Santor, a Los Angeles-based wedding planner. She suggests a compromise: "I think that having an unplugged ceremony, but not having an unplugged reception, seems to be the juicy middle."

High Profile on 08/03/2014

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