My husband says I have a problem and he’s right, I do. The thing is, I keep taking photos of my children. Lots of photos. So many photos in fact, that I keep filling up the phone on my camera...
Every few months (or, sometimes, weeks) I realise my camera is full again. It’s during those times I try to get a grip on things. I scroll through my camera, looking for photos I can erase. But when I do, I end up going down, down, down the rabbit hole of memories.
I see photos I haven’t looked at for a while, and my heart melts. “Oh, that was such a lovely day,” I think, as I see a picture of my kids laughing in the backyard. “Aren’t they sweet?” I think, as I come across a shot of them hugging.
I struggle to choose what to delete, so I sheepishly hand my phone to my husband, asking him to please help clear my camera (yes, I suck at all things technological and need my husband’s help to download my photos… But really, that’s another problem for another day).
When my husband has weaved his magic and passes me my phone back, I go back into the world like a spritely bunny, ready to snap away again to my little heart’s desire.
While I say this is a problem, I’m not actually being serious. I know that being a ‘digital hoarder’ doesn’t actually hurt anyone. But now I have reason to believe my snappy-happy ways are actually good for me. You see, new research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that we overestimate how much we will actually think of, or talk about, pleasant memories.
“Importantly, the desire to retrospect does not change over time,” said Stephanie Tully, assistant professor of marketing at University of Southern California, who did a doctoral dissertation on the topic. “Instead, past experiences become less top-of-mind over time, and as a result, people simply forget to remember.” In other words, because life keeps moving forward, we’re less likely to reminisce as often as we think we will.
That’s where my photos come in. When I take them, I feel I have captured just a tiny bubble of a feeling I want to hold on to. I don’t think taking photos ruins the moment for me. I try to soak that up, too. I just don’t trust my memory to store those feelings for me after the actual time has passed.
The truth is, parenting is often hard, monotonous and trying. But there are also moments of absolute joy. And remembering those moments helps me through the not-so-great times. The best way to remember those moments, I find, is to have visual proof of them.
In a final study for the research, the researchers looked at the impact of buying mementos or taking professional photos of a fun run. The research showed that two months after the event, those who had physical reminders of it talked about it more often than participants who didn’t.
“These results are consistent with the view that actual retrospection is strongly dependent on the accessibility of the experience, which is aided by visible mementoes,” Tully and, her co-researcher, Tom Meyvis wrote.
Meanwhile, they noted, having access to digital photos wasn’t as effective. Perhaps that’s because when we take a photo on our phone, we may not scroll back and look at them often enough. Having an actual photo you can hold, on the other hand, means you’re more likely to see it more often.
To be honest, I find scrolling through my photos is an effective way to jog my memory (but maybe that’s because I do it so often). While I have no intentions of cutting back on my excessive photo-taking ways (sorry hubby!), this research has inspired me to print more of the shots I love.
The problem, of course, will be choosing which ones I want. After all, it’s not like I’m short of options…
Image: Julie Adams | Words: Evelyn Lewin