Example of a popular "unplugged wedding" sign from OffBeat Bride

Example of a popular “unplugged wedding” sign from OffBeat Bride

With cell phone camera and selfie stick use at an all time high, often taking away from life’s moments, it is no wonder there is such a huge trend for “unplugged” weddings.  If you are new to this term, “unplugged wedding” refers to those weddings where guests are asked to refrain from any cell phone use – including taking photos of any kind during the ceremony.  Before I express my thoughts on this entire topic, let me say first and foremost: I am completely in favor of any bride and groom who wants an unplugged wedding.  But recently,  I have seen a new trend going to an extreme:  where wedding couples are asking their guests to give up their cell phones entirely when they arrive and they are not “allowed” to have them back until they leave the wedding reception that night.  I was also recently asked to go up and “grab” the cell phone from any guest who started to use it during the ceremony.  And no, I will not do that.  For many, many reasons.  No matter how much you pay me (please read on).

First of all, let’s look at all the great reasons to have an unplugged wedding ceremony:

  1. Guests are fully present- engaged in the true meaning of why everyone was called together.  They are watching with their eyes, hearing with their ears and because of this, listening with their hearts. And in doing this, they are supporting the very reason they came and the couple they love. There is no greater part of the wedding day than being present and witnessing a truly special wedding ceremony.
  2. Photographs – wedding photographs will be looked at for generations to come.  To see a keepsake photo  of the sacred wedding ceremony with guests holding up electronic devices – and worse:  selfie sticks – ruins the photos forever.  The couple has paid for a professional photographer to document the wedding.  Let him/her do their job with the perfect angles, light, etc.  Chances are, you will be able to see photos at some point after the wedding day downstream anyway and perhaps choose any that you like from this beautiful part of the wedding day.

By remaining “unplugged” for the ceremony, guests are truly giving the bridal couple a wide range of gifts.  Even if you do not agree with it, it is not your wedding day, and any human being who respects themselves can certainly sacrifice an electronic device for an hour or so for someone else they love for these very good reasons.

Now please allow me to address the issue of not just requesting, but demanding that all guests surrender their cell phones completely and not be allowed to reclaim them until they are leaving the wedding later that night or insist that your Wedding Coordinator physically grab any cell phone from any guest who has not paid attention to your request.  Unless you are a high profile celebrity or leader of a nation with security /privacy issues and concerns, this can border on highly inconvenient for your guests (and questionably legal).  Is it your wedding and you can do whatever you want?  Yes – to an extent.  It is my job to also counsel my clients on how to create a gracious and memorable experience for their guests as well.  As the hosts of the wedding, it is my belief that the wedding couple has an obligation to their guests’ comfort and happy experience, too.  Take the following, for example:

Photo Credit: Becca Rillo

Photo Credit: Becca Rillo

In Santa Barbara, 100% of my client’s weddings are held in epic locations with gorgeous landscapes and backdrops:  from mountains, to the beach and ocean, wineries and vineyards, to incredibly manicured gardens in private estates, resorts, historic architecture and more. The very reason the wedding couple chose their wedding location was because of the view and uniqueness of the site.  To invite guests from all over to come and enjoy it is a special gift.  But to insist that after the wedding ceremony, during cocktail hour when guests are mixing and mingling with family and friends, whom they have not seen in a long time in the beautiful epic setting (while the main wedding photographer is busy taking post-ceremony photos with the bride and groom) not be allowed to take photos of themselves, family and friends – and the epic views/location- is , in my opinion , thoughtless.  It seeks to stifle guest’s enjoyment of the very thing the wedding couple has invested in:  a beautiful location with family and friends, that is, in essence a “reunion” of sorts.  Certainly the wedding photographer , even with one or two assistants, cannot guarantee that they can capture every single moment of every single guest during cocktail hour and dancing later, and all the fun moments which occur.  And certainly, not every guest is going to be able to see all the wedding photos after the wedding day or be able to purchase them, as most photographers will request, if they send an online album to clients post-wedding.  But most importantly, when a couple invites guests to come to their wedding, not only does the couple invest significant money, but so do their guests:  travel, hotel, meals, childcare, attire , and wedding gift.  To be invited to such an occasion and in such a beautiful setting with other family and friends and be micromanaged with their personal cell phone/camera for the entire duration of the wedding event is , to me, rude and highly controlling of the guest and to a point: inhibits their experience at the location.

To request an “unplugged wedding ceremony” is fine and completely justifiable.  To even request that no one use their cell phone for phone calls during the cocktail hour and reception is more than fine.  One can even create a “Cell Phone Zone” with signs away from the wedding reception area that encourages guests to go to another area to make phone calls if absolutely necessary.  But to demand that no one is allowed to use their camera during cocktail hour or dancing in a beautiful setting being reunited with friends and family, and to surrender their device entirely during the entire event and not be allowed to retrieve it until they leave is of concern to me.  It is branching out into ridiculous proportions and no matter how many signs one makes, no matter how many announcements, if not watched carefully, the focus of this beautiful event becomes an obsession with policing guests , which ironically, is just another way to be distracted from being present and enjoying the wedding, the very thing the couple wanted  to begin with.

Photo Credit: Michael Costa

Photo Credit: Michael Costa

As your Coordinator, part of my job is to implement what you wish.  But it is also my job to point out, based on my 600+ weddings’ experience, what is a gracious and delightful experience for your guests, too.  Is it about you, the bride and groom?  Yes, of course.  But it is also about your guests who are going to tremendous effort and expense to be there for you.  I suggest that there be a “tertium quid” of sorts, where there is a compromise, a “meet-in-the-middle” solution for your wishes and allowing your guests to enjoy themselves and capture moments that your photographer is not guaranteed to be able to capture with so many moving parts during a cocktail hour and dancing.

So, what will I do if you ask for an unplugged ceremony and a guest pulls out a phone during your ceremony? I will discreetly approach said guest and remind them of the request of the bride and groom and offer them another area to which they may excuse themselves to take their call. Or, if they are taking a photo, I will ask them nicely to please put it away.  If they insist, will I reach out and grab their phone?  No.  There is such a thing as manners and if they are not jeopardizing national security or someone’s life, I do not have the right to reach out and take their personal property.  There are also legal and liability concerns in doing so.

An exceptional event means it must have an exceptional host who certainly deserves to have wishes come true, but also values their guests.  There is a delicate balance, and I hate to see the “unplugged ceremony” become such an obsession, that it goes to extremes into the entire event in ways that micromanage the guests and their experience and in doing so, destroys the very thing it originally was supposed to do:  allow guests to be present.