Know of that famous saying that goes, “Take a picture; it’ll last longer”? If you think that documenting every important moment of your life will help you preserve those precious memories, you are in for a shock.
I just had an awesome week of entertainment. From feeling like (and wishing) I was 22 to drinking like I was 18, the week-long shenanigans called for plenty of camera snapshots just so those rare, fun moments would last longer.
Turned out, I couldn’t be more wrong. According to a recent study by Fairfield University psychologist Linda Henkel, using a device to record experiences will cause you to lose those memories instead. Reason: When you are taking a video or photo, you are not fully taking in the entirety of the event; all you’re seeing is what’s in your viewfinder – which isn’t a lot. And because you are putting in most of your mental energy trying to capture the event as accurately as possible, your brain won’t be able to digest and retain the important moments in the long term.
Memory experts explain that in order to remember what goes on amidst a vast array of sounds and images, your brain needs to use deep processing – when you process information in a meaningful way, it increases the likelihood of it being stored in your memory.
To prove this theory, Dr Henkel went on to conduct two related studies, during which she had students walk around a museum and remember objects as well as details. The results showed that those who were asked to photograph a whole object remembered less, while those asked to zoom in on a detail recalled more about the entire object. “It’s as if they click the button to take the photo and mentally think, ‘Done, next thing.’ They don’t engage in the processing that would lead to long term memory,” says Dr Henkel of the participants from the first study. The second study, however, proved the complexity of the human brain, that it codes experiences differently than a camera does.
Another psychologist even warns against selfies, claiming they are a “particularly lethal memory-killer” because chances are, you’d be fiddling with the camera’s controls even more than you would when you take a regular picture.
This all makes sense. At both of the concerts I recently attended, the venues were illuminated by the light emanating from recording devices. So many concert-goers kept their eyes fixated on their own viewfinders, blissfully unaware of what was happening elsewhere on stage. I’m ashamed to admit I was one of them. At one point the singer asked everyone to be up on their feet to dance and clap along to one of her hits – embarrassingly, most of us were too focused on standing still and holding on to our devices. Perhaps a smarter move is to get one of those monopods (or selfie sticks) – not only is that a more considerate approach than using huge-ass tablets and blocking everyone else sitting behind, it also allows you to focus on the concert and record it at the same time. Never mind that you look ridiculous holding it.
The best thing, of course, is to take a few snapshots then keep the phone tucked away in your pocket so you can truly immerse yourself in the experience. Though I must say, using the camera isn’t always a bad thing; it comes particularly useful when you want to remember – not retain – what transpired during a night of drunken debauchery. #truestory
About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.