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Smartphone cameras are so ubiquitous they come between us and the experience we are trying to capture.
PRESIDENT OBAMA caused a minor kerfuffle when he was photographed taking a selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt at the memorial for Nelson Mandela.
The politics notwithstanding, this raises anew a question that has been explored anecdotally for quite some time: does ubiquitous snapping of smartphone pictures diminish our experience of the events themselves?
Almost everyone carries a camera these days, and there seems no limit on how many snapshots we are willing to take.
But a newly published scientific study concludes that, indeed, the act of taking a picture – supposedly to keep the memory of the moment – actually interferes with that very memory. It is weakened.
WE HAVE discussed this topic on many occasions, but most directly in the post BBC asks: Are smartphones killing memories? published on June 21.
After noting the growing frequency of the phenomenon of you-shooting-me-shooting-you, we concluded:
“There is ample evidence that the pace of technological change is accelerating geometrically. Is it with in human capability to keep up with it?
This is an important question for many scientific disciplines to ask … and, hopefully, answer.”
That post included the question from the BBC presenter included in the show Are smartphones killing memories?
The website of Livescience which reported on the study of taking pictures in a museum. Click image to enlarge.
“Is anyone actually looking?” he asks. “If they spend the moment taking pictures, what is it exactly that they will remember?”
The answer, it seems, has now been found. It was published this week in the journal Psychological Science which summarized it in No Pictures, Please: Taking Photos May Impede Memory of Museum Tour.
“In a new study, psychological scientist Linda Henkel of Fairfield University presents data showing that participants had worse memory for objects, and for specific object details, when they took photos of them,” the news release states.
Henkel was inspired to conduct the research in part because of her own experiences.
“People so often whip out their cameras almost mindlessly to capture a moment, to the point that they are missing what is happening right in front of them,” says Henkel.
The web site of the Association for Psychological Science which published the research article.
Like other inquiring minds, Henkel wondered whether the image taking interferes with the actual experience of the events. Unlike others, however, she set out to find the answer.
“To find out, she set up an experiment in the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University.
“The data showed that participants were less accurate in recognizing the objects they had photographed [during a museum tour] compared to those that had only observed. Furthermore, they weren’t able to answer as many questions about the objects’ visual details for those objects they had photographed.”
The evidence is compelling, if not conclusive.
The researcher’s background is further elucidated in the report at Livescience titled Want to Remember Your Museum Visit? Don’t Take Pictures
“Psychology researcher Linda Henkel, of Fairfield University in Connecticut, said her study was inspired by real-life observations, from seeing concert-goers compulsively document performances to watching tourists hardly pause to take in natural wonders.
“It occurred to me that people often whip out their cameras and cellphone cameras to capture a moment and were doing so almost mindlessly and missing what was happening right in front of them,” Henkel told LiveScience in an email.
“Years ago when I was at the Grand Canyon, I remember someone coming up to the canyon’s edge, taking a shot with their camera and then walking away, like ‘got it — done!’ barely even glancing at the magnificent scene sprawling in front of them,” Henkel added.
The temptation is strong, indeed.
Most of us have succumbed to it at times recently.
But now we are beginning the process of understanding that it is not necessarily the best way to preserve a memory of a cherished moment.
After all, how many different ways can one photograph a sunset? Or a well-known monument? Or a famous personality on stage?
We are well advised to leave those images to those who can capture them best, while devoting our time to savoring the moment.
Henkel’s research is a first step in a broader understanding that putting a four-inch screen between one’s eyes and reality is not the optimal way of recording a visual experience.
We should think twice, or three times perhaps, before mindlessly spoiling our reality – and, often, that of others – by trying to capture it forever in bits and bytes. We risk losing the memories themselves.
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