Goo Goo Dolls - Absolute Goo

Banner Header

Pitchfork: Taking Photos at Shows Is Messing With Your Memories

AsIAm

  • *****
  • 497
    • View Profile

Food for thought...

http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/1220-taking-photos-at-shows-is-messing-with-your-memories/?mbid=social_facebook

Here’s a fun game to play the next time you’re at a live show: As the musicians begin playing, resist the urge to pull out your phone and document the moment rather than living it. While not every audience member defaults to this mode, a sizable portion will because phones and concerts—hell, phones and practically all experiences—now go hand in hand.

I’ve been guilty of it—we’ve all been guilty of it. Every picture or video I captured on my phone served as a stamp in my proverbial concert passport, something I could carry with me and recall at any moment. I just needed one good shot to prove I’d been there, to serve as a concrete reminder beyond a ticket stub or a t-shirt that I came, I saw, I listened. But more than serving my own mnemonic needs, photos helped me cultivate a social media identity. ‘Hey Facebook, I just got bumped to the front row at Ryan Adams!’ ‘Hey Instagram, here’s Future looking—wait for it—futuristic!’ Ugh.

The situation has reached such an impasse, even the calls to put phones away now seem old hat, maybe even futile. Music critics and fans alike have published a bevy of articles beseeching fellow audience members to stop using their devices at concerts because at best, it’s slightly annoying and at worst, it can distract to the point of ruining a show. There’s a growing number of musicians—from Björk to Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Savages—who have either asked politely for or outright set a no-phones policy. Still, it’s complicated: “We say no photography at our shows, but also, people go out once a month and they pay a lot for shows,” Beach House’s Alex Scally recently told us. “I feel a little annoying, like it’s asking too much or is a little bit pretentious to say, ‘Don’t pull out your iPhone at our show!’”

It would seem that musicians have more power to shift concert culture away from this bad habit, but our biggest stars continue to face this problem even after speaking out. “I want to tell that lady as well, can you stop filming me with a video camera because I’m really here in real life. You can enjoy it in real life, rather than through your camera,” Adele said from the stage back in May, calling out one attendee up front. The funny thing is, this wouldn’t have made headlines had someone not been filming Adele when she was calling out someone else for filming.

However, this debate over concerts, cameras, and social tact might soon be a relic of the past. Apple recently won its 2009 patent application for cameras that detect special infrared signals onstage and disable audience members from taking pictures or recording video. It’s specifically intended for concerts, so if you want to grab a quick Snap to send to friends, future iPhones might not let you.

Regardless of this increasingly dystopian future where phones make (more) choices for us, there are psychological reasons to keep your phone away at shows. Simply put, using a camera at a concert could affect your ability to remember it. Linda Henkel, a professor of cognitive psychology at Fairfield University, told Pitchfork, “With the camera, people act as if their photos are their memories and they’re not. A photo is one representation of an experience but it’s not the experience.”

In 2014, Henkel published a study in Psychological Science examining how taking photos affected people’s ability to remember what they were photographing in the first place. Henkel asked participants to walk around a museum and engage some objects with their eyes and others with their cameras. When asked to photograph an entire object, people didn’t remember it as well later on, creating what Henkel termed the “photo-taking impairment effect.” She explained, “Because of the vividness of the photo, the amount of detail that’s captured, it ups the expectation, like ‘I’ve captured that.’ What I would’ve spent my visual attention on, I’ve now already captured that.”

Participants did remember museum objects better when they were asked to zoom in on one part rather than the entire thing. That has to do with the way the brain pays attention to details but still registers the entirety of what’s being observed. But that’s not to say you should zoom in on, say, Beyoncé’s eyebrows as to better remember her Formation Tour as a whole. Henkel’s experiment involved a relatively quiet atmosphere photographing static objects. Concerts offer up a much more physically stimulating situation, which likely changes the outcome.

Some might counter, What does it matter if you can’t remember a show when you have photographs and videos to do the remembering for you? Humans have long relied on external objects, people, and now internet search engines as memory extensions. Called “transactive memory,” these mnemonic devices help people by offsetting the burden of remembering because the brain simply can’t retain all the information it encounters on a daily basis. As we grow more comfortable turning to Google to answer a question instead of trying to remember an answer, we’re simply transferring memories from our (admittedly unreliable) brains to more stable outlets.

Photos are simply one more extension, but the problem with them lies partly with the amount of data we’re creating. We’re each amassing an already crowded archive we don’t know how to handle. Facebook users upload roughly 350 million photos a day, according to Adweek. To get that one beautiful image often involves taking several photos so we can go back, find the best one, and share that. But we don’t always delete all those extraneous photos. According to Henkel, people admitted they don’t go back and review the hundreds or thousands of photos they take. “[Photos] are not serving their purpose as memory retrieval cues if you never look at them again,” she warned. Susan Sontag used more dire language to discuss the problem in Regarding the Pain of Others: “The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs. This remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding, and remembering.”

Beyond memory, does the act of documentation make us enjoy the activity more in the moment? A new study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people tasked with taking photos during experiences ended up enjoying them more than when they didn’t—but only in certain scenarios. “While taking photos increased the enjoyment of observers, it did not affect enjoyment of those actively taking part in the experience,” Kristin Diehl, assistant professor of marketing at University of Southern California and one of the study’s co-authors, told Pitchfork. In other words, if the activity centers around observing rather than doing, documenting can increase enjoyment levels; stopping an activity to take a photo became burdensome to participants.

How this relates to show-going, it would seem, depends on how you are in that setting—basically, whether you’re actively engaged or just observing. When we’re less engaged, cameras may help us feel a deeper connection, but they aren’t really a substitute for “living in the moment”—that popular rallying cry for those who feel technology has rewired our brains in a way that may not, ultimately, make us happier.

So while this is an issue for live music fans, it’s also the product of something larger shifting in our increasingly social media-driven culture, in which every new smart-phone comes standard with a high-res camera. Photos and videos may have once been predominantly memory cues, but the way we use them—oftentimes in service of our own personal “brands” on a micro level—has changed. It’s why no matter how many musicians set no-phone policies and showgoers shame obnoxious quasi-bootleggers, the habit will continue—and will continue to be debated. Apple’s patent is probably the only real shot at changing this behavior—and even that’s a scary prospect, the notion of technology so closely dictating “memories.” That is, if we can even call them that. Psychology isn’t so sure.