Did you really get that?

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My son got married last month and I had a front row seat.  As I sat there taking it all in, my ex-husband had his smart phone out and took pictures throughout the ceremony.  I found myself wondering how much of the wedding he was actually experiencing.

Taking photos of every big and small life event seems to have reached epidemic proportions.  And while the technology makes it so easy to “capture” every moment, I think it points towards something a bit more important – the disconnection between ourselves and the experience of the present moment, also known as “our lives.”

While we think we are getting images of life that we can share with others and enjoy ourselves, we are actually closing ourselves off to the full experience of that instant.  We have the picture, and we are missing all of the other sensory experiences that go with it – the smells, sounds, tactile sensations, thoughts, and emotions, to name a few.

I saw and felt my son getting choked up seeing his future wife walk down the aisle.   As I sat there watching them exchange vows, I was so aware of the beautiful music, the colors in the room and the temperature of the air. My body tingled and my heart beat faster as I opened to the love and joy in the room.  I felt like a sponge soaking up all the happiness that surrounded me.   I experienced more deeply the connections between us all, as well as some thoughts that I’m not as proud of…and all of this was unfolding simultaneously as I gave myself completely to each moment that arrived.  And as I think of it now, I reexperience it in great detail, on all sensory levels.

Then this morning, I came across a study done by psychological scientist Linda Henkel of Fairfield University in Connecticut in which she describes  the “Photo-taking Impairment Effect.”

In her study in the journal Psychological Science, she says, “When people rely on technology to remember for them – counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves – it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences.”  And because we take so many pictures and don’t really organize them, we can’t easily find them to enjoy and remember the experience later.

Thus, not only do we miss much of what is going on when we are busy taking pictures, we inhibit our ability to fully remember the event later.  I am not suggesting that we all stop taking pictures, rather that we bring awareness to what it is that we are actually after and if taking a photo is the best way to get it.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Linda Oxford

Linda Oxford, MS, MA, LPC, RYT500

Linda has a private mental health counseling practice in Rochester Hills and Alden (seasonally), Michigan. She provides compassionate and confidential psychotherapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes, meditation and yoga training to people, groups and businesses wanting to learn to decrease anxiety and depression, cope with chronic physical or emotional pain, improve health and well-being, and gain greater satisfaction with life.

5 Comments

  1. Suzanne on January 1, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Love that. Living a life of Mindfulness… Now that IS Living. Thanks for sharing the blog! Blessings to you in 2014.

  2. Daniel on January 14, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Linda –
    Great article! Knowing your family and being a professional photographer I really appreciate your sentiments. When I photograph an event I experience it very differently from those who are participating.

    I was recently at a wedding and I was appalled at the number of people taking photos with their phones… and not just one but through the whole ceremony. It was too much.

  3. Diane Shaw on September 15, 2014 at 9:32 am

    guilty. I do take pictures of everything, and for exactly the reasons stated. I want to use the photos later to look back and help me remember, and I also want to share the important moments (mostly of my kids growing up) with people who cannot be there- my mom in Texas for example.
    I also feel like I am there in the moment. I feel like I am wholly present. I think I am with my kids and family as we do these fun things or have these experiences I document. Yet I know, it is different. As a photographer I am a watcher, instead of a full participant. I do step back or step out of frame, or even step INTO frame to take a picture, and that does make the experience different. I can feel that when I am participating in an event (such as officiating a wedding!) and cannot take pictures myself. I find myself struggling to take each moment in, to use each sense fully to help me feel and remember the moment.
    Sometimes, in a moment like I had last night, I will see my child in a certain way, and will feel so present in that moment, and I will think to myself- I wish I could just capture this second, this instant in time and have it for later! I wish I could just take a picture, or a video, or some sort of recording to savor this actual second at a later time. The moment when my children are in their pajamas, clean from the bath, with hair wet and sticking up, wanting a book to be read to them, is not the time to pull out a phone a snap a picture, no matter how beautiful the moment may be, because it would take away from the importance of that second WITH THEM that I can never get back.
    Thanks for the reminder and the validation that being present is the gift. In the now. Even if we don’t get to ever have that moment back, it is worth it to be there together.

  4. Peggy Ann Kralik on August 11, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Your insights and blogs make a real contribution to me and others. Thank you.

    • Linda on August 11, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks – I’m glad my thoughts and words are helpful.

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