Everyone knows millennials live on their phones — meeting, greeting, tweeting, friending, texting and Instagramming. Still, the week before my son got engaged, his thumbs were flying even faster than usual: Will was in a fevered exchange with the out-of-town jeweler who was recutting and resetting my mother's vintage diamond for his bride-to-be.
"I've managed to save 95 percent of the stone," texted the jeweler.
"You're a magician!" Will lobbed back.
When, at the eleventh hour, the restored ring arrived in its velvet-cushioned box, Will sneaked into his bathroom (to keep the secret from Nan, his almost-fiancée) and snapped a picture of the prize with his phone. "The Eagle has landed" was the title of his ensuing email to us. Attached was a shot of the diamond, glittering beside the toilet.
The proposal took place the next day on a hike overlooking the San Francisco Bay. (Happily, Nan said yes.) Once again, photographic evidence poured into our inbox, and photos of the beaming couple soon appeared on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Such online announcements were second nature to Will and Nan, both 27-year-old "digital natives" whose job categories didn't exist five years ago: Will works for a start-up university, Nan for a ride-sharing service. Cyberspace is the air they breathe.
According to the 2015 Real Weddings Survey by online wedding marketplace The Knot, 89 percent of millennials use their mobile phones for wedding planning. "The moment you get engaged," says Kristen Maxwell Cooper, The Knot's executive editor, "you're glued to your smartphone. Digital tools make wedding planning so much easier for today's couples."
When Cooper herself got married three years ago, wedding-planning apps hadn't been invented; today, by contrast, these apps shower engaged couples like birdseed after a ceremony. Among the most popular — and free — are The Knot's Ultimate Wedding Planner, which offers wedding checklists, vendor listings and a budget tool. A similar app from WeddingWire features a seating chart and a hashtag generator.
Apps like these enable couples to track every detail from their devices 24/7, be it test-driving color palettes or booking the venue, circulating examples of wedding wear or sharing photos of the big day. "Better warn your thumbs now," boasts the tagline of one app, "it's super addictive."
So, yes, "the whole wedding landscape has changed," as Kim Forrest of WeddingWire points out. But, she quickly adds, "a lot of technology is not taking things away during wedding preparations, but adding to them." If a wedding looms in your near future, consider what four parents learned about internet efficiencies from Will and Nan's recent nuptials:
1) Think of the wedding website as a digital corral of planning info for guests — where to stay, events, activities, directions to the venue, even a gift registry — framed by idyllic photos of the sweethearts romping in the hills and kissing at sunset. Will and Nan created their website using Squarespace; both The Knot and WeddingWire offer dozens of templates, as well. (Do not attempt parental input here.)
2) Hashtags are this generation's monograms; 50 percent of couples use them, says Forrest. Will and Nan merged parts of their last names to form the hashtag "#houghtelhoff," making it easy for invitees to find their engagement and wedding photos online.
3) Posting the blissful couple's gift registry on their wedding website is commonplace these days — and less awkward, certainly, than pestering the MOB (mother of the bride) for gift guidance. Will and Nan registered with several of the usual suspects — Crate and Barrel, Bloomingdale's — as well as with Zola, an all-purpose registry that lets guests contribute to a group gift or help subsidize honeymoon experiences: Dinner in Stockholm! A sunset sail for two!
Similar nontraditional registry sites abound: There's Traveler's Joy for honeymoon treats; SimpleRegistry for experiences; or Honeyfund for cash donations toward the honeymoon, a charity or even a housing down payment.
(A note on thank-you notes: Whereas I scribbled wedding gifts in a journal back in the day, Will took a cellphone shot of each present on arrival. But in a nod to the past that we savored, he and Nan handwrote their thank-yous on real stationery.)
4) Our only true culture clash occurred over the wedding invitations. Will wanted to use email: "Reply cards always get lost." I disagreed: "Older guests like to get an invitation they can stick on the refrigerator and look forward to." Luckily, the MOB sided with me, and a compromise was reached: Paper invites were sent, but guests could RSVP on the couple's website.
"Paper invites are not going away any time soon," says Forrest. In the website's 2015 survey, 74 percent of respondents used paper "Save the Dates," while 89 percent handwrote — and snail-mailed — thank-you notes.
5) Will and Nan got hitched without a hitch in a Sonoma vineyard oak grove, with bluebirds fluttering by (and cellphone cameras buzzing like a swarm of cicadas). Our niece streamed the entire wedding ceremony on her iPhone — a nice touch for two faraway grandmothers, who witnessed the event in real time from home.
The wedding toasts divided the guests into predictable camps: While older invitees read from pieces of paper blowing in the wind, the younger ones squinted at notes on their mobile devices. Fortunately, no one suffered the near-injury a friend reported from his son's marriage celebration in India, where the best man looked up mid-toast to find a small object flying straight for his head. It turned out to be a drone; the bride's parents had arranged for it to take aerial photos of the revelry.
More and more American couples, too, are requesting drone photography, reports Forrest. Although they are obviously better suited for aerial views of the venue than intimate shots at the altar, drones can be noisy, pricey ($800 to $1,000) and, yes, hazardous. "They're getting mixed reviews when used with people present," Forrest observes. Yet drones pale with the digital pyrotechnics on the horizon: Would you believe minicams hidden in the bride's bouquet? Or heart-rate monitors that capture the bride's and groom's emotional upticks?
6) Just as the afterglow threatened to fade, the wedding photos arrived — in the form of an email containing a link to hundreds of them on the photographer's website. Scrolling through the digital shots, we laughed and cried all over again at Will and Nan's first look, first kiss, first dance. True, these images might soon be floating all over Facebook and Instagram, not preserved for posterity in a leather album. But no matter what digital shortcuts had helped bring about their union, the love on their faces was real.
Elizabeth Fishel is coauthor of Getting to 30: A Parent's Guide to the 20-Something Years.