Taking Photos at Shows Is Messing With Your Memories
Here’s a fun game to play the next time you’re at a live show: As the musicians begin playing, resist the urge to pull out your phone and document the moment rather than living it. While not every audience member defaults to this mode, a sizable portion will because phones and concerts—hell, phones and practically all experiences—now go hand in hand.
I’ve been guilty of it—we’ve all been guilty of it. Every picture or video I captured on my phone served as a stamp in my proverbial concert passport, something I could carry with me and recall at any moment. I just needed one good shot to prove I’d been there, to serve as a concrete reminder beyond a ticket stub or a t-shirt that I came, I saw, I listened. But more than serving my own mnemonic needs, photos helped me cultivate a social media identity. ‘Hey Facebook, I just got bumped to the front row at Ryan Adams!’ ‘Hey Instagram, here’s Future looking—wait for it—futuristic!’ Ugh.
The situation has reached such an impasse, even the calls to put phones away now seem old hat, maybe even futile. Music critics and fans alike have published a bevy of articles beseeching fellow audience members to stop using their devices at concerts because at best, it’s slightly annoying and at worst, it can distract to the point of ruining a show. There’s a growing number of musicians—from Björk to Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Savages—who have either asked politely for or outright set a no-phones policy. Still, it’s complicated: “We say no photography at our shows, but also, people go out once a month and they pay a lot for shows,” Beach House’s Alex Scally recently told us. “I feel a little annoying, like it’s asking too much or is a little bit pretentious to say, ‘Don’t pull out your iPhone at our show!’”
It would seem that musicians have more power to shift concert culture away from this bad habit, but our biggest stars continue to face this problem even after speaking out. “I want to tell that lady as well, can you stop filming me with a video camera because I’m really here in real life. You can enjoy it in real life, rather than through your camera,” Adele said from the stage back in May, calling out one attendee up front. The funny thing is, this wouldn’t have made headlines had someone not been filming Adele when she was calling out someone else for filming.
However, this debate over concerts, cameras, and social tact might soon be a relic of the past. Apple recently won its 2009 patent application for cameras that detect special infrared signals onstage and disable audience members from taking pictures or recording video. It’s specifically intended for concerts, so if you want to grab a quick Snap to send to friends, future iPhones might not let you.
Regardless of this increasingly dystopian future where phones make (more) choices for us, there are psychological reasons to keep your phone away at shows. Simply put, using a camera at a concert could affect your ability to remember it. Linda Henkel, a professor of cognitive psychology at Fairfield University, told Pitchfork, “With the camera, people act as if their photos are their memories and they’re not. A photo is one representation of an experience but it’s not the experience.”
In 2014, Henkel published a study in Psychological Science examining how taking photos affected people’s ability to remember what they were photographing in the first place. Henkel asked participants to walk around a museum and engage some objects with their eyes and others with their cameras. When asked to photograph an entire object, people didn’t remember it as well later on, creating what Henkel termed the “photo-taking impairment effect.” She explained, “Because of the vividness of the photo, the amount of detail that’s captured, it ups the expectation, like ‘I’ve captured that.’ What I would’ve spent my visual attention on, I’ve now already captured that.”
Participants did remember museum objects better when they were asked to zoom in on one part rather than the entire thing. That has to do with the way the brain pays attention to details but still registers the entirety of what’s being observed. But that’s not to say you should zoom in on, say, Beyoncé’s eyebrows as to better remember her Formation Tour as a whole. Henkel’s experiment involved a relatively quiet atmosphere photographing static objects. Concerts offer up a much more physically stimulating situation, which likely changes the outcome.
Read the full story at Pitchfork
By Amanda Wicks