Weddings Etiquette & Speeches

Thursday 17 October 2019

Embracing the 'Unplugged Wedding': Is it time to take the big day offline?

Whether it's forcibly shunned or fully embraced, there's no denying that social media is having a major impact on today's nuptials - but when it comes to the wedding day, are we better to leave our phones at home and try to 'live in the moment'?

Karen Birney

Karen Birney

Have you been to an unplugged wedding yet?

Perhaps you have, and you didn't even realise* (eek!)

It may sound hard to believe, but today not everybody wants every aspect of their lives played out online, in fact more and more couples are even going as far as to ban phones from their wedding ceremonies in order to encourage guests to 'live in the moment' and to keep things truly 'private'.

It's not just celebrities with a fear that their intimate day -  from their personal vows and unfiltered faces to their unrehearsed and perhaps eyebrow raising speeches - will somehow appear online as a grainy feed by some undercover grudge-holding, or perhaps even well-meaning, guest, it's regular couples too who are opting to put a halt to the sea of phones that is likely to greet them as they look out at friends and family after saying their heartfelt 'I dos'.

While many declared it out-and-out 'notions' before, the 'unplugged' wedding is now very much a thing, with couples seeing the myriad benefits of requesting that guests leave their hashtags at the door and keep the phones for emergencies only.

"I've had a few church ceremonies lately where the priest has announced that the couple would rather no phones," says Irish photographer Katie Kavanagh, of Katie Kav Photography. "Most people listen, some, do not."

"It's a shame, it means that when walking down the aisle the couple are faced with a sea of phones and not the faces of the loved ones they've invited to their weddings," she laments. "Ceremonies are so much better when people are engaged with what is going on in front of them and not staring at their screens trying to capture the moment. Ask yourself, is the blurry pic of the bride walking down the aisle really that important?"

One bride who recently said no to phones at their big day was newlywed model Jayne Higgins, who took to her Instagram to answer some questions about her wedding - and said that the most popular question she had been asked since the big day was why she chose to ask guests to turn off their phones during the wedding.

The personalised hashtag has become part of today's plugged-in weddings. Stock photo via Getty Images/Hero Images
The personalised hashtag has become part of today's plugged-in weddings. Stock photo via Getty Images/Hero Images

"It was a decision we made at the beginning [of wedding planning]," the Belfast model said. "I remember looking at a photo album of a wedding and the bride was walking up the aisle and literally every single person had their phones out and I didn't like the look of it."

"I also hate that before the bride even leaves the church the whole country has seen her in probably the most unflattering angles... A little bit vein but I don't like that either.

"I just didn't want people on their phones, i just wanted them to enjoy the day," she explained.

Of course, we're talking about a phone ban here, and not an out-and-out social media ban, which aren't necessarily mutually exclusive - ie, you could have a social media ban while still allowing people to take video and pics, but not the other way around (unless you've some seriously inventive pals).

A social media black out is perhaps a little more of a touchy subject, in that many people may not be clear on where it begins and ends.

With that in mind, couples have found themselves 'banning' phones from their ceremony alone, and explaining that once they've walked down the aisle, they're happy for people to snap and post to their heart's content.

Photographer Katie sees it from both a photographer's and a couple's perspective; "I've no problem with people taking their own photos once the ceremony is over, knock yourself out," she says. "I won't have my photos ready for about six weeks after the wedding and the couple are going to want to relive the day through your phone photos the next day."

So, if an unplugged wedding sounds like your bag - how do you get guests to leave their cameras in their pockets?

Here's a few ways:

- Word of mouth

Once the wedding is nearing, mention it to a few people that you'd prefer people not to use their phones during your ceremony, and ask them to politely pass the word along.

- On the invites

A formal request if ever there was one, this won't go down with everyone but is the most straightforward way of getting your decree across. You do risk sounding like a high strung PA for a C list celebrity by doing this, but you won't find many people arguing when it's down in black and white before they've even RSVPd.

- In the ceremony booklets

A note at the beginning of the ceremony booklet along the lines of "We want you to be fully present today with us, with that in mind we'd ask you to shut down your phones and refrain from using your cameras while we all embrace the day together - don't worry, we've a pro to capture all the best moments, so you won't miss a thing!" You can then ask the priest or celebrant to vocalise your wishes before he or she begins.

- Signage

Pop up a couple of friendly signs around the ceremony or reception venue, declaring it a no phone zone. You don't need to go around VEEP style with a bucket to collect people's hand helds, they should get they idea*.

Then all that's left to ask yourself is - did you really get married if you didn't Instagram it?

*One guest we spoke to, who choses to remain anonymous, revealed that she missed the sign declaring it an unplugged wedding ceremony, and found herself absolutely mortified once she was informed - crucially, after the ceremony. The bride wasn't miffed, but the guest says she'll never quite live it down!

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