Digital photography, social media and memory.

I was at the Coast Guard Beach on the National Seashore on Cape Cod in Massachusetts one recent evening and saw an amazing moon rise. The moon first appeared as a deep red semi-circle; within a few minutes the full moon was visible low over the ocean in brilliant red; as it rose higher in the sky it turned silver within about twenty minutes. As I watched the moon rise I decided to take a picture of it with my phone. A friend commented on how digital photography has changed the way people take pictures, suggesting that the ease and low cost of taking pictures often leads people to pull out cameras and photograph images instead of savoring them in the moment.

This conversation was on my mind when I listened to a radio program on this very subject from the program Future Tense on Radio National from Australian Public Radio. “Staying in the picture: photography, social media and memory” was broacast on 3/30/14. Host Antony Funnell had four guests on the show, including Dr Linda Henkel, cognitive psychologist at Fairfield University in Connecticut.

Dr. Henkel described a study she conducted in which subjects visiting the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University were instructed to either photograph objects in the museum or try to remember them. Among other findings, it turned out that those who photographed the objects had more trouble remembering what they had seen, which Dr. Henkel called the “photo-taking impairment effect.” If you want to use photos to remember an experience, Dr. Henkel advises reminiscing by looking at the photos as well as talking about and organizing them. I listen to podcasts freqently, sometimes several different programs, of varying lengths, in a single day. About five percent of them end up in this blog. I have found that unless I discuss a podcast with someone, take notes on it, or write a blog about it, I tend to forget it fairly quickly. Technology has amplified our ability to gather information in various forms, but evidence suggests that unless we take the time to think it over and, ideally, share what we have learned, we tend to retain relatively little of what we have captured in electronic form.

To listen to the program, read a transcript, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit this URL below:

Dr. Henkel’s study is described in a brief article, “Taking photographs ruins the memory, research finds,” published in The Telegraph, 12/10/13, available at this URL:

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