Intuitively, it makes sense.
If you want to remember that special moment, many of us instinctively reach for our phone or camera to take a picture of it.
However, that does not seem to be the case.
In his most recent Wall Street Journal column, Dan Ariely addresses this very issue in responding to a question from a reader:
Whenever my mother visits us, she’s preoccupied with taking photos of her grandchildren so that she can remember every moment. Having her camera in our faces all the time is annoying, but I don’t want to deprive her of good memories when the visit ends. Should I try to convince her to stop taking pictures? —Barbara
And here was Dan’s response:
Now that most of us carry a phone with a camera, it’s hard to resist the temptation to document every significant moment in photographs. But it turns out that taking pictures all the time isn’t just annoying; it can make it more difficult to remember the very experiences the photos are intended to capture.
In one experiment, pairs of visitors took a tour of a historic landmark. One person in each pair was instructed to take photos and the other was told not to. A few weeks later they were given a surprise memory test about the landmark, and it turned out that the visitors who took photos remembered much less than those who didn’t. While the photographers were preoccupied with trying to get the best shot, the nonphotographers were able to think about the experience and absorb it into the structure of their memories.
With this in mind, try asking your mother to experiment with leaving her camera at home next time she visits. She might find that this allows her to spend more time really interacting with the grandchildren, leaving her with memories that are more vivid and meaningful than any photos.
I would think a combo of such behavior would work best.
Perhaps people should set a limit on their photo-taking. Maybe one photo per hour, or per landmark, or per visit. That way they have some physical keepsake from the experience, but doing so allows them to focus their time and attention on the experience itself, rather than worry about trying to capture it on a camera.
This approach would enable the person to share the experience with others, but has the benefit of not overwhelming those people with too many photographs, many of which may seem quite similar to one another.
So maybe it’s time for a new phrase:
a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a memory is worth a thousand pictures…