Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Holy Shit, Memory (and Photography)!

Taking a picture with a phone

I think we can all agree that memory is weird. So weird, in fact, that I'm only going to focus on one aspect of memory in this post. It's a newly discovered thing that Neo-Luddites (now there's an oxymoron) have been bemoaning ever since cameras came with phones.

Pictures. That is, the incessant picture-taking of the kids-these-days generation. The kids these days traditionally respond by claiming that taking pictures helps them remember important events. "But sight is only one sense," the Neo-Luddites retort, "and you're so focused on taking pictures you forget to use the rest of your senses, or even actually see what you're recording."

"Pish-posh," say the youths, and they skateboard away full of mirth and truancy or whatever. I'm not really young anymore, I don't know.

This came up when I googled "kids these days," so I guess it's possible that they've switched to unicycles

Well, the Neo-Luddites have new ammunition in their constant struggle against new and exciting things. Linda Henkel, a psychologist at Fairfield University, decided to find out whether of not they have a point through the clever use of science. It turns out they do.

Henkel sent a bunch of college students into an art museum and told them to photograph some pieces but just look at others. When they were quizzed later on, they were significantly more likely to remember small details if they hadn't taken a photo. Which means our brains really do subconsciously use photos as a memory crutch.
eggs frying
It's like that old drug PSA, but way less serious. And Rachel Leigh Cook isn't going to destroy your kitchen over it.

Before you Neo-Luddite readers get too excited, you should know that the rule is not absolute. When instructed to take photographs of specific details instead of an object as a whole, their memory was just fine. And that's not just on the detail they zoomed in on - zooming in on one detail made them as likely to remember all the details as students who took no pictures.

So next time you want to savor a moment, either savor it without the use of a camera or savor a few very specific details of it when you take a picture. Because otherwise your memory will partially shut down like the lazy young whippersnapper it is.

Holy shit.

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