Great Britain

Taking too many photographs can damage our memories

ON HOLIDAY a few years ago in Barcelona, we visited the Magic Fountain, a spectacular display of water, light and music that is captivating to say the least.

As we were watching, the couple in front of us were trying to get the perfect shot on their mobile phones. They spent the whole of the 20-minute display taking a picture, bending over to check it, taking another, checking it, more than likely deleting it, taking another, and so on.

They were faffing about so much it was annoying for those people behind them, us included. And they weren’t the only ones who spent the whole event holding mobile phones in front of their faces. Dozens of people were witnessing the colourful display in this way.

Now a study has revealed that taking photos can impair your memory of the occasion because you are too distracted by getting the right shot.

Scientists in the US tested people’s recall after taking photos of artwork and found that taking pictures impaired recall of the artwork’s details. People were better at recalling what they had seen when they hadn’t been taking snaps

The study suggests that instead of repeatedly lining up our phones, we should ‘live in the moment’ when visiting art or landmarks.

Obsessive picture-taking is also prevalent at live music concerts and festivals, and promoted stars like Madonna and Jack White to ban phones at gigs. White said he did so that fans were immersed in “100 per cent human experience.”

I can’t pretend that I didn’t take any pictures when my family watched the Magic Fountain - I did, but three or four at the most.

I learned my lesson on a couple of occasions when my children were young. Once, I spent so long trying to get a decent shot of my daughter during a school drama festival that I could barely recall what part she played, let alone how she performed. Of the times when I simply sat and watched, I have longer lasting, happier memories.

The problem today is that our devices can take thousands of photos, so we can snap away until we are happy with the result. We can pick and choose what to keep and what to reject, and we do this in between taking pictures.

In the extreme, people have lost their lives while striving for the perfect shot, in particular when posing for selfies. Last week a man from Dorset was lucky to survive after falling off a cliff while posing. Others, in similar situations, have suffered worse fates. In fact, between 2011 and 2017, 259 people died across the world while trying to take selfies.

It’s a far cry from the days when films came in rolls of 12, 24 or 36. With a finite number, you couldn’t afford to merrily snap away.

Films had to be taken to the chemist’s to be developed. It was quite exciting when you finally got to look at your pictures. Often, many were imperfect, but you accepted that.

Modern-day photography has also made it so much more difficult to create photograph albums. I love albums and have umpteen, but have not compiled one for 20 years. I wouldn’t know where to start with the thousands of images I have on memory sticks and clouds. It would set me back thousands to develop them all and I’d need a library of albums to accommodate them.

I don’t enjoy looking at photographs on a laptop or a mobile phone - which has far too small a screen - anywhere near as much as in an album.

Now we take more photos than we know what to do with, yet have fewer tangible photographic memories to pass down the generations. I find that quite sad.

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