Do you take a lot of photos with your phone? We all do. But you know what? We really shouldn’t.
The reason isn’t just a matter of losing and wasting storage space but also because the images are getting in the way of memory. Instead of truly, vividly, remembering an event or a piece of art, we’re capturing images outside of the body, outsourcing them to be projected outwardly (or “shared”) instead of inwardly. It’s a fascinating neo-problem that Pitchfork is on the case of.
The blur comes from people confusing their photos for memories. As psychology professor Linda Henkel explained to Pitchfork, “A photo is one representation of an experience but it’s not the experience.” This is the issue, because our “transactive memory” – “mnemonic devices” that help people remember something they experienced – are being outsourced to pictures, to Google, to any other tech items that trigger our power of recollection. Our brains may have finite power but the power that we do have is being sent to the clouds.
The problem is less about taking photos of concerts but more that these cues we have to remind us (i.e., photos) aren’t being taken advantage of, thus tossing memories away. I have a feeling much of this has to do with photos no longer being a commodity. It doesn’t cost money to take hundreds of photos, there is no wait for development, no physical objects. Thus, we make memories and almost instantly dispose of them.
The story explains further.
“[Photos] are not serving their purpose as memory retrieval cues if you never look at them again,” [Henkel] warned. Susan Sontag used more dire language to discuss the problem in Regarding the Pain of Others: “The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs. This remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding, and remembering.”
Not that you need to look and look and look over your photos but be conscious of what your images are doing and how they affect the mind. If anything, these findings are an opportunity to rethink our approach to personal photography and to cleanse our clouds of all the redundant shit we’ve filled it with.
Remember to remember, really. Don’t turn your brain into an Instagram post, tossed into the digital world while everything behind it is forgotten.