C/O Klaudia Piaskowska

An over-reliance on digital photos causes more harm than we may expect

By: Rankini Kulatilake, Contributor

From my first ultrasound to my high school graduation, my mother’s scrapbook has captured all my milestones. If anyone wanted to know my story, a simple look through that scrapbook would reveal everything. Yet, 18 years later, in the age of digital photographs and phones with multiple cameras, my mother still chooses to carry a disposable camera around to capture the excitement of the world around her. 

Though digital photographs are quick and often high quality, it has caused meaningful pictures to have increasingly lost their uniqueness given the number of pictures that can be taken so quickly.  This idea is based on the fact that we depend on digital photographs to remember the experience, notwithstanding the fact that we have an abundant amount of digital photographs, which can get easily lost in the abyss of our “Photos” app.

A study of undergraduate students was performed as a guided tour of a museum, prompting the students to take pictures of some objects and just simply observe others. The results? The students remembered fewer visual details about the photographed art, in comparison to the art they were asked to only observe

The study found that this difference is due to our over-reliance on the camera, rather than our memory. Consequently, we lose small details and fail to activate the processes that allow us to remember these important details. In short, digital photographs lose their meaning due to our overdependence on the camera itself, causing us to forget important details that would enhance our memory of our experiences.

Digital photographs are easy to take, quick to save and you can easily take 100 pictures in the span of a mere two minutes. In 2018, an estimated one trillion photos were taken. This gargantuan number of photographs will only grow as time goes on. Even in our own phones, we have a flood of pictures. 

But how many of those do we look back at? How many of those experiences do we remember? My camera roll is around 1,000 pictures; however, most of these would be collecting dust if they could. Very rarely will I look back on these pictures because there are simply too many of them and they all blend in together. Many of them have lost their significance as they’ve blended in with the excessive amount of random screenshots and memes I have stored. 

In other words, though digital photos are efficient, the large quantity of them in our phones makes them easily forgettable and causes them to become virtually meaningless.

However, are physical photographs any better? With digital photographs, you can easily share them with your family members and friends who live far away. You’ll even have it there forever, no worrying over losing it or damaging the picture. Despite this, digital photos do not equal security. They can be lost just as easily as physical photographs, albeit in a different manner. 

According to technology developer Vincent Cerf, our most fond and precious memories that are stored digitally risk being lost due to the rapidly evolving changes in digital technologies. 

If we look to compact discs as an example, many used this as a storage unit for a variety of different media types. For a while, you could insert a CD on your laptop as they came with CD players built-in. However, most new laptops do not come with a CD player built-in. Similarly, with the USB, those important files are always easily corrupted and vulnerable to being lost. 

This issue is not seen with physical prints, as photo printers have evolved from being at your local supermarket to mobile printers that you can carry in your bag and connect to a device. All in all, even though physical photographs cannot be as easily shared across vast distances as digital photographs, they can be securely stored and have withstood the rapid advancements of digital media technologies well.

Thus, the rise of digital photographs has caused photos to lose their meaning and significance. This is due to the fact that we remember less of our experiences when we rely on digital photos, as well as the fact that our digital photos are overflowing in our camera rolls. As well, digital photos are constantly vulnerable to the ever-changing media technologies. 

That being said, we can easily capture every moment now, but does it really equate to a memorable and meaningful experience if you are merely viewing it through a phone screen? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but, oftentimes, a thousand words are just not needed. 


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