You see it pretty well everywhere you go: whether you are at concert, sports game, touristdestination, or even on something as ordinary as a subway train, there always seems to be at least one person taking a picture.
While this is largely because the majority of us are now walking around with a small and powerful camera in our pocket, there seems to be something else to it. Somewhere along the way it started to become more popular for people to capture and re-watch rather than simply observe or participate.
But does this decision to capture what we are seeing improve or worsen our experience?
Logic would probably lead you to assume the latter, since the act of recording steals at least a portion or our attention, but a recent study seems to suggest otherwise… at least in particular cases.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that most individuals felt more engaged in the activity when photography was included.
Spearheaded by Kristin Diehl, PhD (University of Southern California), Gal Zauberman, PhD (Yale University), and Alixandra Barasch, PhD (University of Pennsylvania), the study involved over 2,000 participants. They conducted nine different experiments, all of which involved the subjects participating in an activity and either being asked to take photos throughout or not.
The activities included, but were not limited to: taking a bus tour, eating at a food court, going on a virtual safari, and going through a museum exhibit. Once completed, participants were then asked to complete a survey designed to measure both their enjoyment and engagement in the activity.
Overall, the researchers concluded that in many cases the inclusion of photography helped with engagement, which played a key role in their overall level of enjoyment. This was particularly true in the experiment where participants were asked to take a self-guided tour of a museum exhibit while wearing glasses that tracked their eye movements. Being equipped with the camera led most to spend more time examining the artifacts on display, ultimately making it more enjoyable to them.
However, there were some exemptions to this general conclusion:
- Including photography did not increase enjoyment levels in activities involving active participation, such as arts and crafts.
- Photography made the experience worse for those who were asked to capture moments from the virtual safari that some would be averse to watching.
The experiment adds nuance to a seemingly cut-and-dry example of our increasing disengagement with our own lives and experiences.
A Hypothesized Root Cause
Wanting to take this a little deeper, I’ve come up with a possible explanation for why photography seems to have become such an integral part of most of our lives. Aside from those for whom photography is a passion, I think many of us take photos of everything because we are insecure.
We are not comfortable enough with simply being who we are to let the things we do go unnoticed; it’s as if, unless someone acknowledges something we’ve done, it didn’t happen. Our social media feeds are highly curated, littered with photos of us doing exciting things and looking great but rarely ever featuring the ordinary elements of life.
Could we possibly be taking and posting these pictures in hopes of boosting our self-confidence? Or am I taking this theory too far? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please share them with me via the comment section below.