Photos are great, but they’re no substitute for memories.
Imagine standing at a concert ready to watch your favourite artist perform. You hear the auditorium fill with music and see the stage light up with spotlights. As you prepare yourself for the start of the song, you notice a sea of screens all around you pointing up at the stage.
Everyone wants to get a picture of the artist, record them singing live, and capture the moment on their phones. They all seem to be looking at the stage through their devices as opposed to what is right in front of them. The crowd roars, lights flash along with the hundreds or thousands of phones waiting for just the right moment to press record.
Everyone seems preoccupied with taking pictures instead of just seeing.
We take pictures so we can remember everything, and while taking photographs can flawlessly capture the moment on camera, it doesn’t help us remember the experience. A phenomenon called the photo-taking impairment effect states that putting effort into taking excessive photographs can weaken your ability to recall details of the event later.
A 2014 study first explored this concept by sending study participants on a guided museum tour. Participants were told to take pictures of some of the art pieces and to simply observe the others.
When the participants we asked what they remembered from the tour, it was discovered the objects photographed weren’t remembered as well as those that were simply observed.
When taking pictures, we are “outsourcing the memory capturing process to an external device” and telling our brains they don’t need to remember the moment. Thus, we don’t devote our full attention to the experience.
This is not to say that we should never photograph anything. Taking pictures is great. They create fond memories you can look back on.
It’s nice to capture our most significant moments, but it’s important to experience them first and take photos second. Compulsively pulling your phone out anytime you’re experiencing a memorable event places a screen between your eyes and reality, which takes away from the beauty of the lived experience.
We’re doing ourselves a disservice going through life this way. No picture can capture the exact way the stage lights up or the concert sounds echoing through the stadium.
Taking too many pictures and videos forces us to experience the present like it’s already in the past. We should focus on making memories, not just documenting them.
Amna is a third-year Health Sciences student and The Journal’s Graphics Editor.
Art, Culture, experience, memories, unplugged
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