Is a life captured in photos more memorable and well-lived than one fully experienced and recorded in memory?
I suppose one could convincingly argue that memories fade, but photos, especially digital ones, can last forever. That’s certainly true. One could also argue that looking through stacks of photos from yesteryear can rekindle long-forgotten memories and emotions. I relish looking through my volumes of old photos, laughing at how adorable my late dad looked wearing Mickey Mouse ears at my younger daughter’s first birthday party, and how grateful I am to have a photo of my beloved when we dated “the first time around” more than 20 years ago. (We’re both incredulous that we didn’t take more photos back then.)
But I wonder if there’s a critical trade-off that is especially relevant today given the ubiquity of phone cameras: That time and effort spent behind a camera snapping up baby’s first steps, vibrant sunsets and a visit to the Iguazu Falls greatly distract from actually experiencing those moments and capturing them in memory rather than in pixels.
Last weekend my 9-year-old granddaughter and I experienced Orchid Mania at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and I say “experienced” because I chose to walk with her through the main exhibit without taking any photos. I purposely tucked my iPhone into my purse and focused on being present. We talked about the flowers, inhaled their exquisite scent and simply enjoyed being in the moment together.
After we walked through the exhibit I did take photos, mainly for this blog post. (In addition to the orchids, the show, which runs through March 11, 2018, features fashions inspired by orchids by students from the Fashion School at Kent State University. Photos below!) But I do think it was liberating to put my iPhone away and experience the show with all my senses, rather than stand behind my iPhone and let it do all the work have all the fun.
At a recent lecture on the cognitive neuroscience of music, I learned that the body’s autonomic nervous system responds quite differently to live versus recorded music. Hearing music performed live offers numerous health benefits that include, in the case of soothing music for example, reduced heart rate, stress and sensitivity to pain. Researchers point to a “communication” between the performers and the audience as well as the audience being more attentive during a live versus recorded performance to help explain this effect.
I wasn’t surprised by this revelation, and I believe the same is true for live versus recorded experiences, particularly when one is fully present and engaged in the experience.
I’m not suggesting that we eschew memorializing our experiences in photos. I am, however, suggesting that we pay attention to savoring the experiences while they’re happening, and using our fantastic senses (appropriately, of course; it would be bad form to lick the band’s lead singer) to enhance the experience. By all means, take photos. But don’t let that activity dominate the experience so that when all is said and done, your photos are the only proof.
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