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Sharing More, Experiencing Less?

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Much has been said about the democratisation of photography – how applications such as Instagram and the rise of smartphones usage has made photography accessible to everyone, regardless of their technical background, or the amount the time and money they invested in practicing and studying the craft of creating meaningful visual stories.

The impact is not only visible on the way we are creating, but also on the way we’re circulating this content. You don’t need to be a household name anymore to be able to share your photos with the world. Heck, you don’t even need to be talented at all. Though some professional photographers welcome those new digital mediums and don’t feel threatened by the impressive and constant stream of images we’re now all producing, others are accusing smartphones of killing photography as an art form.

Smartphones, by nature, are not made for photography as a craft, they are made for communication. And this is how most of our generation is using them: to share and document our lives. Sharing photos on social networks, be it in an ephemeral way with Snapchat, or a more permanent one with Facebook and Instagram, has become central to the way we experience, capture, and remember small and big moments in our lives. We are now sharing and uploading a staggering 1.8 billion photos a day.

It is obvious that the mass adoption of smartphones and social networks has profoundly changed the way we capture and share our experiences, but how has it influenced the way we actually experience those moments? Are we thinking so much about how we will tell those stories to our friends and to the world that it hinders the way we are actually living them?

If you’ve been to a concert recently, I’m sure you have noticed – and probably have felt quite annoyed at – the number of people in the audience watching the show through their device’s screen. According to a T-Mobile study, 47% of concert-goers text and email while at a show, and 32% of them engage in social media during a show. Some artists such as Pink Floyd and Prince find this wall of devices so irritating that they have even asked their fans not to use their phones during their concerts.

Why do we feel compelled to shoot photos and videos of live music that we know for a fact we’ll never look at again? Is it because we are deluding ourselves in thinking it will help us preserve the memory, or because we want to show everyone that we’ve been engaging in something fun, cultural, and social?

A very disturbing episode of the dystopian series Black Mirror – “The Entire History Of You” – explores a reality where most people have a ‘grain’ implant which records everything they do, see or hear. There is even a startup that created an automated wearable camera that captures your life at 30 second intervals.

Unfortunately, recent research published in The Journal of Psychological Science suggests that taking photos without really investing ourselves in the process may impede our memory. We rely so much on our camera to record our memories that we lack the focus and the attention to properly engrave and remember the experience. This phenomenon has been dubbed thephoto-taking impairment effect, and only happens when we are doing point-and-shoot photos. Spending long enough time taking a photo can eliminate this effect, but it is rarely the case with most photos we’re taking with our smartphones.

Despite the fact that snapping photos and videos doesn’t help us remember our experiences, and literally makes usobserve some of the best moments of our lives through a little screen, we keep doing it to better share our story with the world. Social media is giving us a unique opportunity to cut, edit, and re-shape our life stories for public consumption. It is all about presenting the ideal version of ourselves.

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And this constant storytelling exercise is not even contributing to our happiness. Numerous studies have found that consumption of our friends’ feeds as well as our own broadcasts to wider audiences on social media correlate with feelings of loneliness, depression, and triggers states of envy and resentment in many users. Another side-effect of social media is the now well-known FOMO (“fear of missing out”) effect, defined as the anxiety that an exciting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.

The constant social pressure explains why new, more intimate social platforms such as Snapchat are proving so popular. In a great article written by a teenager about social media – if you only click on one link in this article, I recommend you read this post – the author explains how the absence of comments, likes, or any public number of followers makes Snapchat so addictive and liberating. “If I don’t get any likes on my Instagram photo or Facebook post within 15 minutes you can sure bet I’ll delete it. Snapchat isn’t like that at all and really focuses on creating the story of a day in your life, not some filtered, altered, or handpicked highlight. It’s the real you” writes Andrew in his article.

Maybe the next big social network will be the one that finds the perfect balance between recording and remembering, sharing and experiencing. Until then, let’s try to find that balance ourselves.

 
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