“It doesn’t count if you didn’t post it on Instagram” really did become the most overused and unfunny joke of 2018.
Yet I went on holiday recently and didn’t take a single photograph. Not because it wasn’t an “Instagrammable location” or because I didn’t have a good time. In fact, not taking photos wasn’t intentional, at least at first. I wanted to make more of an effort to be present with my family, so I would deliberately leave my phone at home.
I discovered that it was liberating to not feel so wrapped up in getting “the perfect shot”. The two weeks of holiday were spent being truly in the moment, and the chore to capture every single bloody sunset, meal and pool shot fell away. Taking a photo every time you see something you like can become exhausting. Not ferociously snapping away freed up more time to actually enjoy the holiday and resulted in a more carefree experience because I wasn’t constantly whipping my phone out, distracted by angles, lighting and filters. I simply absorbed what was happening in front of me.
Now I’m tempted to never take photos again while I’m away.
The irony is, most people take a picture to capture a memory, but some psychologists say you’re actually rewriting over that memory by doing so.
When you rely on photography to document experiences, psychologists theorise that you’re subconsciously having the camera remember for you, and your memories may ultimately suffer because of it.
Psychologist Maryanne Garry of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, says that photography can manipulate both our memories and subjective interpretations of lived experiences. She says, “I think that the problem is that people are giving away being in the moment.”
Similarly, cognitive psychologist Linda Henkel, a psychology professor at Fairfield University, conducted a study in 2014 with 28 university students where they were asked to observe 15 objects and snap photos of 15 others in a museum. When they were tested the next day, they were less able to remember details of objects that they had photographed. Henkel found that taking photos led to an “impairment effect” where the subjects remembered fewer concrete details of an experience.
“As soon as you hit ‘click’ on that camera, it’s as if you’ve outsourced your memory,” she says.
“What I think is going on is that we treat the camera as a sort of external memory device,” Henkel adds. “We have this expectation that the camera is going to remember things for us, so we don’t have to continue processing that object and we don’t engage in the types of things that would help us remember it.”
The research keeps pouring in. Evangelos Niforatos, a researcher at Universita della Svizzera Italiana, studied how technology can affect our ability to make memories. He says that divided attention is absolutely an enemy of memory.
So, with such widespread use of new smartphones and devices that automatically take a picture every 30 seconds, how much is too much? How do we know when we taking too many pictures and sacrificing our memories?
Unfortunately, most of us are taking more photos than we can handle, regularly wondering what we should do with our smartphone photos and struggling to delete old ones to clear out storage space on our phones.
We’ve already been told that Instagramming food makes meals taste worse. Perhaps that’s why I ate such delicious food on my recent two-week holiday.
As tempting as it may be to snap away until my heart’s content this festive period, I think I’ll put the phone down more and actually enjoy the moment with loved ones instead.
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