Experiencing Self, Remembering Self, and Photography

Dave Pell contemplates in a post titled “This Is You on Smiles” on what the proliferation of cameras in our devices is doing to our collective memories:

During a presentation on happiness at the Ted Conference, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman makes a distinction between theexperiencing self and the remembering self. Digital photography gives additional dominance to the remembering self. At his birthday party on the beach, my son almost leapfrogged over his realtime experience. He was no longer imagining what he looked like on that surf board. He was looking at what he looked like. The wave of emotions, senses and reactions that made up his initial experience were swept away by the undertow of a single sense: what his eyes saw on a two inch viewfinder.

The digital age gives a new (and almost opposite) meaning to having a photographic memory. The experience of the moment has become the experience of the photo.

And it’s not only the subjects of the photos who are affected. In the age of the realtime, social web, the person taking the photos is often distracted by the urgent desire to share near realtime photos of an experience. Is it worth reducing an entire real life experience to what can be seen through a tiny screen? 

This tidbit is fascinating:

John McEnroe wants to remember having the experience, not watching it. McEnroe has never watched the video of his dramatic 1980 Wimbledon final against Bjorn Borg. I’ve heard him explain that he wants to maintain his personal recollection of the match. He doesn’t want to take the chance that his memory of the experience will be altered or even replaced by a new memory of the video version of the event.

There are a few events which I’ve attended, and after I’ve seen the photographs, my memory was jogged and the thought process was: did I really do this? So I totally get where Dave is coming from; sometimes, just put away the camera and experience the world around you.

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