Are there memories without pictures?
|November 1, 2011||Posted by Sophy Bot under Identity, Internet culture|
Less than twelve hours after the last guest left, the first question was already being asked: did anybody take any pictures? The question itself was rhetorical. Of course people took pictures. Most of them, in fact. The real question was this: did anybody take any pictures with me in them?
The event in question was a Halloween masquerade thrown by respected New York promoters Gemini & Scorpio. It was the kind of party that was chock-full of photo ops and performances, with no shortage of professional and amateur photographers on hand.* But for those of us who couldn’t find a place in between the folds of our mummy bands or superhero capes to stash a camera, the next day we found ourselves relying on the kindness of picture-taking strangers to get a record of the night’s events. After all, what’s a party these days without pictures?
You see the same thing any time you go to a concert, a performance, a parade, or any other event where there are likely to be people out having fun: a never-ending sea of cameras and smartphones, all quietly recording the event for posterity. The photos and videos are immediately posted on Facebook, on Twitter, on Flickr, on YouTube, all tagged and edited and ready to be viewed by the event participants and the world-at-large. If, come summertime, I find myself reminiscing about what I did on Halloween, I can always revisit the photos and put myself right back in the costumed thick of it.
There’s no question that we as a society like taking photos. We like to record the interesting situations we find ourselves in. We want to keep records of the good times we spend with our friends. We want to track the growth of our children and our pets. We want to catch pictures of those moments when we feel happiest – not just vague recollections of them, but real, bona fide photographs that we can look back on whenever the mood strikes. So what happens to all those memories that aren’t backed up with a clear visual record?
In the past, the moments you recorded were relatively few and far between. You had to buy a camera, buy film, pay for photo processing, and then you had to wait for several days to see if the picture even came out in the first place. Now, with high-quality digital cameras coming standard on the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone, the production costs associated with casual photography have practically dropped down to zero. That means we’re taking a whole lot more photos, and we’re doing it a whole lot more often. Sure, you’ll remember the concert even if you don’t record a video. But won’t you remember it better if you do?
As a high school and college student, I obsessively attended dozens of concerts in and around New York City. For a few of those shows, I happened to bring along a disposable 35mm camera. And which concerts do I remember best now, a decade later? You guessed it: I have the clearest memories of those few concerts where I captured photos.
Now that we take photos of everything, what happens to those memories that aren’t accompanied by a visual record? If you took pictures at 9 out of 10 concerts this year, are you going to remember the tenth next year? How about in a decade? It’s a fair bet to say that while you may still remember it, you’re not likely to remember it well. We’re constantly jogging our memories when it comes to the events we took photos of, bringing them up to the top of our minds. Non-recorded events slip lower and lower in our collective memories, sometimes slipping away altogether. So what happens now? Will the constant documentation trend make us ultimately remember more, or less? Will we remember more since we have more photos of more events to refresh our minds? Or will we remember less, focusing on those events we have photos of in lieu of those we don’t? Either way, it’s something to think about as we decide which events to document and why. Now pardon me while I go hunt down a picture of my masquerade costume.
* Full disclosure – I DJ’d the party