The rise of the digital camera and then cameras on our phones has led to an explosion of picture-taking. Having a high-quality camera in our pockets has led to our snapping pictures to memorialize or share nearly every experience we have. Here are some stats: on average, Americans snap 20.2 photos daily, and worldwide, about 1.7 Trillion pictures are taken annually (54,000 per second and 4.7 billion a day). Source. That’s a ton of pictures! And the number of photos we take continues to increase.
I enjoy scrolling through my photo library on my phone and remembering fun times with family and friends. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard. But does the constant snapping of photos interfere with our good experiences? Two recent studies suggest that we should put down our phones and just live in the moment.
The first study, from researchers at Washington University, the University of Florida, and the University of Denver, noted that experiences, rather than material items, are a key component of happiness (see my Forbes article on that point here) and that how we consume those experiences affects the happiness we derive from the experiences. The researchers conducted various experiments about the impact of taking pictures during experiences and found that “taking pictures (compared with not taking pictures) can decrease enjoyment of highly enjoyable experiences.” Prof. Robyn LeBoeuf of Washington University noted that, “we get so focused on picture-taking, we miss the experience itself.” The researchers advise “carve out moments to do one or the other”: shoot photographs or enjoy the experiences. Don’t do both simultaneously. Source.
The other study was led by researchers at NYU. They looked at the enjoyment of experiences while taking photos for oneself vs. photos intended to be shared with others. The study found that taking photos with the intention to share them reduces the enjoyment of the experience as compared to taking photos for oneself. The reason for the difference is that taking photos to share increases self-consciousness (referred to in the research as “self-presentational concern”). Interestingly, plans to share photos just with family and friends was less detrimental than planning to share the photos on social media.
Both studies taken together lead to the following conclusions:
- When engaging in highly-enjoyable experiences, put down your camera/phone and just immerse yourself in the experience.
- If you are going to take photos, set aside those “Kodak moments” with intention rather than mixing photo-taking and experiencing. Do one or the other as the researchers in the first study suggest.
- Don’t plan on sharing great experiences on social media. Thinking about where to take a photo, how you’ll share it, and what everyone will think of your experience will distract from the experience.