Photos Bomb Our Memories


“Take a picture, it’ll last longer!”
– Pee Wee Herman

Once again, I am inspired by one of the great minds of my generation. I had to know if a picture indeed lasts longer than a lingering stare.

Forget what you know about time, space, eternity, grandma’s photo albums, your horrible prom dress/date, or even the however-many-GB-memory card any of your tech devices has. As it turns out, we may actually lose moments, simply by trying to capture them.

I was perusing social media posts recently, when I learned about a study that revealed how damaging it is to constantly snap photos of moments in order to, among other things (often most importantly), post them on social media sites.

Dr. Linda Henkel of Fairfield University’s psychology department rendered a stirring verdict after evaluating how clearly people remembered details about things they photographed, versus things they had simply allowed themselves to study with their own eyes “in the moment.”

“Participants were led on a guided tour of an art museum and were directed to observe some objects and to photograph others. Results showed a photo-taking-impairment effect: If participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects’ locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them,” she wrote in SAGE Journals Psychological Science.

Don’t get me wrong: I have a total of six photos of me with my very first prom date. I remember every detail about the awful tux-bow tie-cummerbund ensemble he wore. One glance at that photo, and I can just smell the Polo cologne he had apparently bathed in during some sort of pre-date ritual. I vividly remember the dress I wore (hideous by today’s standards).

I remember these things … so, how can I see Dr. Henkel’s point?

I think my memory of my first prom is clearer because in that very significant moment, I wasn’t sharing, texting, tweeting, posting or correcting anything (i.e. making myself look better than I do in real life, courtesy of some app).

I was there at prom. I was there to share my Grandfather’s last Christmas. Neither my phone, nor social media existed at those times. I had no choice but to be in those moments – with my eyes, ears and, for better or worse, my nostrils alert and active. I would cry if I lost the photos that captured those memories.

I’m certainly not suggesting we stop photographing our personal histories. What I am worried about, however, is that one day, I will look at old pictures of myself and the people I love – whether they were taken by someone else, or we had snapped them selfie-style – and have no clue when we took those photos, or where or why.

My new goal is to continue capturing my life’s significant moments in photos, but to also experience everything that happens around those split-seconds. I cannot promise I will always capture them without making duck lips. That would be asking a little too much.



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