Do we take too many photos?

26th August 2018

Last month, my boyfriend and I were at a restaurant in London for his birthday. It was one of our favourites and I always order the same dessert: a chocolate bombe which hot salted caramel sauce is then poured over, the chocolate slowly melting away to reveal the delicious centre. After the waiter had walked away, Matt remarked that he was ‘surprised I hadn’t filmed it.’ He was referring to the fact that the last few times I had always whipped my phone out to capture the dessert revelation.

What Matt didn’t realise was I was actually making a conscious effort to not get my phone out at any given moment. And if anything, his statement reiterated the fact that I was doing the right thing in attempting to curb what had become a real habit. 

Recording and broadcasting one’s life on the various social media platforms available or just for the hell of it has been a thing for quite a while now. It’s nothing new and we’ve all come to accept it as a part of life forever more. 

I’m as guilty as anyone. Anything particularly cute or funny that my nieces do for example, I will reach for my phone rather than being an active participant. Yes, these clips or photos are nice to look back at but what am I really going to do with them? Realistically, the majority of things I capture will be forgotten about in a few years’ time. Can I really imagine myself taking the time to look back at a video of our dog balancing one of her treats on her nose? Probably not. 

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to take photos. In fact, considering we all pretty much all have a mobile on our person at all times, it’s perfectly normal to snap away. But no longer are we taking them of exciting occasions like birthdays or weddings. We’re taking them of bloody everything. Of our frothy coffees, tanned legs on sun loungers and to provide evidence we’ve made it to the gym (guilty!). We have become programmed to think we need to take a photo of our lunch, despite it providing sweet FA to anyone, least of all ourselves. 

The main argument for taking photos is to preserve memories but interestingly, research from psychology professor Linda Henkel has actually found that taking photographs can actually impair our ability to recall details of that event later on. She ran a study in which students were taken on a museum tour and asked to take photos of certain pieces and simply observe others.  The next day, the student’s memory for the objects were tested and the results found that they were less accurate in recognising the objects they had photographed compared to those they had simply observed. Linda calls this the ‘photo-taking impairment effect.’

‘When people rely on technology to remember for them — counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves — it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences,’ she explained. And she’s completely right. When taking a photograph, you are staring through a screen or lens and concentrating on framing the photo right or the focus. You are not absorbing what is happening right in front of you.

So if photos aren’t actually serving a purpose in keeping our memories alive, what is the point? A form of communication, perhaps. Here is how I am feeling today. This is where I am this week. Look what I can achieve/afford/do etc. Social media is a great way to convince yourself that there is a place and a reason for the endless photos you take. Even if, you know, you don’t actually end up putting them anywhere.

I love watching old, grainy footage back from when I was a young child but never have I thought: ‘Jeez mum, is that all that you’ve got?” Because my parents captured the moments that mattered. And that was enough. Sure, my kids will have a lot clearer videos of their childhood than I will, but I highly doubt they’ll want to go through thousands and thousands of photos of them.

We will always take photos. Hell, nothing will stop that. But perhaps we could all do ourselves a favour by being selective of exactly what we take photos of and take a second to think: ‘do I really need a photo of this? What real purpose will it serve?’  To take the time to be physically present and absorb all we can, without the camera.

If you liked this post, why not read: The Reality of Imposter Syndrome.