Whether it's snapping an image or shooting a short video using a smartphone, there's no doubt that many of us simply can't go without documenting every single thing we do.
In many ways, over-documenting is stopping us from living in the moment.
There's been plenty of concert-going experiences where I can remember being surrounded by the glow of smartphones as others record the performance. Most of this shaky footage (with terrible sound quality) ends up on YouTube or shared with Facebook friends. For everyone else who chooses to take in the performance sans-phone, it's a painful experience. We get jostled out of the way so the recorder can find the best angle, and have to put up with the retina-searing effect of a phone's LCD screen in a dark environment.
It's not only audience members who are getting irritated. Some bands have taken it upon themselves to ban smartphones from gigs. One particular performance by Canadian singer-songwriter Feist took a great turn when she changed the lyrics of one of her songs to reference the fact that everyone was holding up cameras and recording — rather than living — in the moment.
Somewhat ironically, thanks to the magic of YouTube, I'm able to embed this video.
This practice is not isolated to concerts. Find any tourist attraction, and you will see a blaze of flashbulbs go off. People document their meals, share their latest fashion hauls from the change room or capture the entirety of their kid's school recital in full HD.
Having a device that sits between you and an experience can detract from the spontaneity of the moment, and stop you from living and enjoying it fully. Perhaps you might disagree, but I know that I would much prefer to see using my eyes rather than my camera's lens or LCD screen. I'd also prefer to be able to choose which moment to capture, rather than have my camera mediate it for me.
We know that memory is fallible. Taking a photo can be a great way to encapsulate an experience, or share it with others who weren't there — this can't be denied. But photography, too, is volatile, and people get caught up in capturing every single moment rather than enjoying what's in front of them. Perhaps we need to have a little more faith in our mind's ability to relive certain experiences than to rely on a myriad of pixels to do it for us.
Spending more time reviewing photos on a screen rather than engaging with a subject or location surely can't be the best way to spend your time. Emotion can be conveyed through an image, but more often than not it's derived from actual experience. The photo simply triggers a memory, which we use to make the connection. Do you take dozens of photos, but forget to look up from the camera screen once it's done? You've missed the moment.
All this said, given our overly saturated visual culture where we expect every moment to be documented, it's too much to expect that everyone will change their behaviour. After all, someone needs to keep providing material for Funniest Home Videos.
Taking photos on Lambeth Bridge image by Louise Ireland, CC 2.0