iDo

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Two months ago, and after years of what some have called hyper-careful consideration, I proposed to my girlfriend. While I’d like to say that I’ve been caught up in a rose-coloured world of emotional contemplation since then, as you might have guessed, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about technology.

How does the gear we use to underpin the most sacred and emotionally charged moments of our lives wind up impacting the experience? What new tools might help us visualize and conceptualize not only “the big day” itself, but the weeks beforehand and the decades on the other side? From invitations to receiving lines, many aspects of the experience ahead of my fiancee and I stand to be influenced significantly by technological tools.

Let’s start with the question itself. While it seems like a big enough moment on its own, my marriage proposal was actually a reflection of years of thought and deliberation. After I’d picked out a ring (and learned everything I could from the Blue Nile iOS app), I faced the challenge of trying to represent all of the thought I’d put into the topic in a clean and concise manner. I’ve got quite a reputation as a head-in-the-clouds rambler, so I chose to lean on a method gleaned from my ongoing studies in strategic foresight to seal the deal. (Note: if you have a reputation as a head-in-the-clouds rambler, articulating your marriage proposal in the language of scenario-driven matrices may not be a welcome breakthrough) By mapping our visions of life together on to four quadrants of a matrix, I felt I’d set the table for a “Yes!” without confusing my fiancee much more than I usually do. However, worried about the reaction that my presentation of marriage-as-learning-organization might elicit, I decided to ground things firmly in humanity by planting my proposal as a typically gangly foresight acronym within the exercise. Let’s just say that she was just as thrilled by the W.I.L.L.U. approach to lifestyle strategic planning as I had hoped.

With a ring on my partner’s finger and family members across the globe notified efficiently and economically through VOIP and videochat, we faced that moment of peril that all young couples encounter – updating our social media statuses. What hashtag would we use to loose news of our decision upon our networks? After a full day of stressing over the issue (having decided that buying URL’s for our names and +1‘ing each other was a bit geeky) we decided to lean on Facebook as our platform of choice. We figured that changing our relationship status would send a big enough ripple out to girlfriends and old buddies hunched over emotional seismographs that we could avoid information architecting a complex online campaign entirely. Fifteen minutes, a few hundred comments, and 50% of our iPhone batteries later, this suspicion was confirmed. I have a feeling that Facebook routes upper-echelon upward changes in relationship status to the top of everyone’s news feed, but I haven’t had enough of a peek behind their algorithmic curtain to be sure.

We were so caught up in the deafeningly positive response to our status change that it wasn’t until weeks later that we realized that there were a number of people on the other side of the digital divide that we’d excluded from our news entirely. Some of my oldest friends, who use social media to push information but not to consume it, didn’t find out for weeks that I’d finally popped the question. As news of major life decisions goes increasingly electronic, will those with less than monogamous relationships with one or more social networks be cast further and further out of the loop?

Even with all the uncertainty and informality associated with online communication, when the time comes to request the presence of our best and dearest at the main event, we’re probably going to keep it digital. Invitations are an expensive and time-consuming part of the wedding planning process, and while I’d like to toss the contract to some talented artist I find on Etsy or Kickstarter, I’m more likely to try and micromanage the process myself on Eventbrite. It goes without saying that this is a debatable time-saver – paper choices and recursive enveloping decisions may be replaced with new concerns ranging from email analytics to browser compatibility. It had never occurred to me that the Flash vs HTML5 debate might hit quite so close to home.

Once all of our guests have fished our invitation from their junkmail folder, and provided their blessing by whitelisting our address, the question of what to do with their online avatars arises. The latest fad at conferences and seminars is to plaster the venue with projected Twitter walls, enabling guests to liveblog proceedings and point out factual errors in presentations… but I’m not sure that I want to wedge a similar technology into my wedding. Just imagining “Did u know that @trevver was 2 nervous to follow up for a #seconddate?” forty feet wide above our head table is enough to make me uneasy.

But the logistical questions around technology at our wedding don’t end there. Should we have a second ceremony in Second Life to accommodate members of the wedding party who couldn’t use Kayak to book a flight in time? Will guests be interested in contributing to a tag cloud, or a data visualization project hosted by Hans Rosling, and dedicated to linking the events of our relationship with global birthrates and economic crises? Are people building apps for their wedding itinerary, and if so, should we scope Playbook development into our project plan given RIM’s recent financial performance?

Even our clothes and accessories won’t exist outside of technological consideration – nothing says “I do” like a ring with a built-in USB flash drive, or a dress featuring LED’s that fade in and out in relation to our accelerating heartbeats. Wearable technology could become the next big thing under the altar, just as branching interactive cinematic experiences might begin to replace the photo slideshows of yore. Judging by the number of embarrassing videos of yours truly stored on my fiancee’s smartphone, I could be in real trouble.

While there aren’t very many things in my life that exist outside of some technological context, I assumed very briefly that the ceremony of marriage might be one of them. It’s been fascinating in these last several weeks to think about how weddings, among the most deeply human events of our lives, are shaped profoundly by technology… right up until the moment where we say “iDo.”