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(Published: 2014-10-25)

A friend of mine recently attended a Bruno Mars concert in Las Vegas. When I asked her how it was she said: “I’m not sure I was really there.” She explained that there were so many people in front of her filming the concert on their smartphones that she felt as though she had watched the entire concert on a screen, instead of in real life.

I’ve heard the same said about weddings, grade school concerts, and just about any public event of note, from presidential inaugurations to papal elections. The ubiquity of smartphones has turned us all into documentarians. While filming, we tell ourselves that we are preserving our memories. But if in the process we’re giving away “the moment” by concentrating on recording it, are we really present in that moment? In our constant quest to capture these memories, we miss the experience of actually living them.

There has been some interesting research recently on the potential long-range effects of our snap-happy culture. In one study, researchers led a group of students around a museum and asked them to either photograph or try to remember certain works of art and historical exhibits. The next day, their memory was tested. Results showed that the students were worse at recognizing objects they had photographed than those they had only looked at. They were also poorer at recalling details of the objects they had taken pictures of.

Psychologist Dr. Linda Henkel, who conducted the study at Fairfield University in Connecticut, says the results show that when people rely on technology to remember for them, it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences.

Tell that to the GoPro gang. In a recent article for The New Yorker titled “We Are A Camera,” Nick Paumgarten writes about the GoPro phenomenon. This incredibly versatile, relatively inexpensive, HD video camera makes it easier than ever to capture and share your world with the rest of the world.

GoPro’s founder Nick Woodman became a multi-billionaire overnight. His tale is a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. He caught the wave of the “look at me” generation pre-peak, creatively leveraged the extreme miniaturization of HD technology, and then capitalized on the exploding prominence of social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook. This trifecta created a $3billion dollar company the day GoPro went public.

Baumgarten suggests that because of the popularity of videos posted on the Internet “life is footage.” This, according to the author, results in a “worldly,’ not a “selfie.” When you take a “selfie” you point the camera at yourself, the person having the experience (I was there). A “worldly” is created when the camera points outward and records what the experience looks like (here I am), rather than the person having the experience.

For now, we each can choose for ourselves whether we should live in the moment or record it. But in the future, that may not be the case. “Selfies” and “worldlies” feel fun and playful today, but pundits warn that we might unwittingly be creating a world in which, warns The Economist, we end up living in “a vast prison of self-administered surveillance.”

Unfortunately, I think the genie is already out of the bottle.


GoPro SurfHero

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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