The unthinkable happened at a friend’s wedding last month. As the groom was asked to confirm his desire to accept the bride as his lawfully wedded wife, he held up his hand, as if to say “wait a minute.” The audible gasps amongst attendees turned to relieved chuckles as he pulled out his iPhone in the middle of the vows. He was tweeting “I Do” to his hundred or so followers.
At a coffee catch-up yesterday, the person I met with was too busy typing meeting minutes in Google Docs to actually have a face-to-face conversation with me. Even after I received his play-by-play account of our meeting via email, I left feeling as if we wasted time and never went deep enough to discuss specific, critical issues.
On New Year’s Eve last year, as thousands of people counted down from ten to one, I looked across the Sydney Harbor foreshore. I was shocked that most revelers were taking photos of the fireworks instead of actually watching them.
Are we entering an age where capturing the highlights of our lives has taken precedence over actually enjoying those very same moments? A quick survey of the social web suggests so. On Facebook today, roughly 200 million photos will be uploaded. We’ll also turn to a myriad of other social networks, such as Instagram (15 photos per second) and Path (1.5 million items of content per day) to build deep reservoirs of the experiences we’ve painstakingly captured. And with the surge in U.S. smartphone penetration, these platforms will only become more firmly embedded in our daily routines. Said one Instagram addict about cataloging the highlights of her day “I don’t have a problem or anything…I feel I need to grab it before it’s gone.” Thus the new behavior on social networks is to develop, as one venture capitalist quipped, “a precious journal of moments to look at in the future.”
The problem is, we must choose between capturing these moments or viscerally experiencing them as they unfold. That we can’t do both simultaneously seems obvious — we aren’t really enjoying the live concert if we’re busy taking photos of the band. But recent research hammers this home, showing that our performance drops when we try to perform both encoding tasks (experiencing what’s around you) and response selection tasks (capturing stimuli) at the same time.
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