Is there any genre of image that better captures the current technological moment than the sea of screens, at a concert or a rally or a show, thrust upward to document a shared experience? The layering of the lights—reflecting an event in the moment, and capturing it for later—neatly conveys the frenetic beauty of life as it’s lived at the dawn of the Internet age. And the anxieties, too, because, you know: Does documenting something cheapen it? Does that sea of screens take something meaningful away from the stage they are aimed at? Does our impulse to snap and Insta and tweet and otherwise capture the events of our lives denude those events, and by extension those lives?
According to a new paper: Nope. Kristin Diehl, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, and a team of colleagues wanted to put those ideas to the test. So they conducted a series of lab experiments and field tests designed to measure people’s enjoyment of events when they documented them, as opposed to when they didn’t. And their results, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and reported by Time, suggest that longstanding anxieties about the ‘grammification of experience may be misplaced: Capturing experiences through photos, the team found, far from compromising people’s enjoyment of those experiences, actually seemed to amplify that enjoyment. A photographic mindset doesn’t seem to prevent people from “living in the moment,” as the old accusation goes; it might actually help them to do that living.