PRT210 – The Camera vs. Memory Controversy

This week we’re talking about the controversy between capturing memories with our minds or with our cameras…

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  • Great Topic! When I first saw the title I thought this would be about story-first vs. picture first scrapbooking – so I was pleasantly surprised with this topic.

    Haven’t listened to the NPR yet (but on the topic of NPR – the interview of the couple who wrote the Frozen soundtrack is super interesting).

    On the parenting / photo taking guilt we’re supposed to be feeling: So I sort of think that American and probably Canadian moms too are a little hyper focused on their kids these days and spending some time taking photos and/or scrapbooking is totally ok. Back in my day… I mean when I was a kid – my parents had their own things and the kids were kind of on their own – which may be unique to me; but I’ll guess that most parents in the 1970s weren’t as into the parenting thing as parents are now – broad generalization, sure. We did get some focused attention from the grandparents – but we probably would have been super happy to have parents snapping photos of us in the park – which would have meant that they were at the park with us – I can remember being very small and walking to the neighborhood park on my own.

    And on the picture taking thing damaging our memories – I don’t think this applies to scrapbookers since we revisit and tell stories about our photos. Plus I don’t think it damages my kids’ memories since they don’t rely on the fact that I’m taking photos – they look at the photos and albums occasionally but I’d guess about the same amount of picture looking I did when I was a kid.

    So I looked over at the NPR site & they had this quote: “So many of our memories are informed by images of moments we don’t
    actually remember. But they happened, right? We want to know: Do you
    have a based entirely on old photos you’ve seen of yourself? Moments you think you remember only because you’ve seen a picture?” – I think this is maybe that thing where someone tells you a story about a picture and then you remember it that way – ie. something that happened when you were a baby etc. I think I have some memories of my cat Dusty from when I was a baby from a combination of photos and stories I’ve been told about those old days – it seems like I have a memory of that time but I’m sure I don’t actually.

    Interesting topic :)

  • P.S. I will add that, like Debbie, surfing the web does interfere with my TV watching – but I’m ok with that too.

  • I have memories of which there are no pictures, but I’m also quite sure that many of my visual memories are actually just our pictures posing as memories! It’s a good point.

  • Stephanie

    I have to first say the last two episode topics have been excellent! Thank you for the great content…so much to think about. This discussion is so timely for me since I just upgraded my iPhone. I now am taking so many more pictures and am basically on it more than I ever was before. I have a 14 year old daughter who always has her itouch with her and I sometimes get on her about it without even thinking about the example I’m setting. During events we are both often taking pictures at the same time! I can’t wait to talk to her about how we can both put the devices down and not have to be compelled to photograph everything. Thank you!

  • This was super interesting episode and I was so glad that you have Tracy Banks on – I find it fascinating how she ties scrapbooking and psychology together on occasion. So, I had some thoughts come to mind while listening.

    1. As a scrapbooker I do think that our community of scrapbookers do take photos with more intention. Before taking out the camera we know why we are taking it out – to take pictures preserve the moment and pass it on to our children. Our photos are not only posted out in cyber la-la-land to be forever seen and forever forgotten. Along with that…
    2. Our children will have memories of mom taking a ton of photos, which is kinda of embarrassing, so that she can show her friends and then post a layout online about them. Our children will have cherished memories of mom making efforts to preserve a story. I think Debbie’s story about her daughter’s friends asking for photos was an excellent example – For her children seeing a camera may actually be a memory que for their mother and moments like she shared.
    3. It is hard to forecast into the future and predict what our children will remember of us – and the truth is that many of the things we do now as scrapbookers will become cherished memories for our children. They may have a foundness for long forgotten iPhones because mom always had photos she was taking of our moments together. They may have a deep appreciation for paper products which in the future could be rare because of the memories of mom’s scrapbook room and all the books filled with beautiful paper. AND…
    4. The information shared over NPR is really interesting, and it is too early to see what the impact instant photo access will have on our lives. It’s awesome research, however, we have to keep in mind that this information is new and evolving itself, it will be decades before they have the full picture, or even a completed part of the picture – think of this information as NPR as one puzzle piece.

    That’s it. =D Oh and by the way I was the commenter from last week that listened 3 times – I have a 3 hour commute three days a week which totals to about 9 hours of Paperclipping Round table a week – I listen a lot…… Thanks for all the happy paper inspiration!

  • I haven’t finished listening yet, but I wanted make a comment before I forget my thought. On telling stories orally, that happens a lot in our family. I tend to scrapbook a lot of the stories that we tell and retell in our family because I know that over time, the details of those stories will probably be lost. I can’t recall all the precious dinner table stories my family would tell when I was kid, so I’d like to preserve the ones I hear now. Granddad won’t always be around to tell the story about using flying over a herd of elephants while he served in the Pacific and Grandmom won’t always be here to explain why she no longer puts the Christmas mice out on the dinner table for the holidays and I won’t remember every funny thing my kid does and he’ll never remember in the context of being his mom. Whenever I hear a story told more than once, I jot it down to put on future pages… and even if it never gets a layout it’s still in my notes.

  • Jennifer Campbell

    Oh my word Noell!! I am laughing so hard at the fur trader question!! LOL You guys are just too too funny!

  • I realize I can be so random at times. :)

  • I haven’t listened to the NPR piece yet, but I think a lot of this stuff is just unnecessary worrying. Of course our storytelling and memories will be affected by the photos we take and the ones we don’t take and how we deal with them (whether we watch them as a slideshow, share them online, print and journal about them, or never look at them again). But every generation has handled storytelling and memories on photos/video differently. Did people worry that 1960s Dad wasn’t paying enough attention to his life because he was making too many home movies? Probably.
    When I was listening to the slip and slide story I was wondering something… how long would you have actually wanted to watch the kids playing anyway? Maybe in the old days you would have come in and sat down with a cuppa to gossip rather than looking at the photos you just took. Chances are in the days of film you would have taken 2 or 3 (terrible) shots, gone inside, put the camera away, and by the time you got the photos developed 6 months later you wouldn’t even remember where you were that day!
    As Tracy was saying, this kind of discussion can be an opportunity to reflect on whether we are doing what we want to do – if we feel like we’re missing out by being behind the camera, or if we would like to tell more stories with our families.
    But I also think that these technologies just bring out who were are as people anyway – if we are distracted and not paying attention we will be wrapped up in something else regardless of whether we have a phone in our hands, if we are social and extroverted we will use our phones to get together with friends, if we feel lonely and isolated we often use facebook and phones in a way that makes us feel more alone and isolated. Mindful people will use technology more mindfully. It’s not the technology, it’s just us. The kids who look like zombies looking at phones would probably have looked like bored in some other way back in the 70s.

  • So many interesting thoughts. Lots of good points. Thank you!

  • It was a great discussion. Just like Debbie is the lady with the camera, my husband is the man with the camera. But he has other agendas besides taking pictures, which he loves to do. Carrying around a nice camera and a few lenses can be a conversation starter. Or he can just hide behind the camera, step back and happily do his thing. He doesn’t feel complete at a social gathering without his camera.

    I, on the other hand, love being free of the responsibility of recording the moment. But I do love scrapping it afterward. So we make a good team!

  • I totally agree!! I get sucked to whatever I do. If I’m on the phone then that can distract me, if I’m reading, or even sewing the same happens. I need to be aware of that and make limits for myself so that I pay attention to life.

  • I have to admit that got me too!!

    Being an Aussie, I can’t wait to be on PRT so you can ask me if I’ve got convict blood :) (SPOILER ALERT: we don’t know for sure!)

  • Natalie (QSOgirl)

    I found this episode really thought provoking (like all the other commenters ;-))

    I had a few thoughts while I was listening that I thought I would share:

    1. Like a couple people have already said, I think as self-identifying memory-keepers, we are more intentional in general about the photos we take. In fact, in the past two years or so, I have become MUCH more strict with myself about documenting the stories behind the photos as soon as possible in the metadata (which, running the risk of sounding like I’m brown-nosing, was all because of you, Noell!). Every single photo (from about that point 2 years ago) that is kept on my hard drive now has a caption in the metadata so that I know why I took that photo. It takes a lot of work, but I know their stories.

    2. I actually find that picking up my camera *sometimes* makes me a bit *more* intentional. I stay at home with my little girl (and soon a little boy– arriving any day now!!) and I can be very distracted by all the things that could be done around the house, or thoughts in my own head about projects I’d like to do, etc., and sometimes I am not quite “in the moment” with my daughter. But sometimes, when I realize this, I will pick up my camera to see “with a new perspective” what is going on at that moment. Not only does this help me to be more “present”, but it also allows me to capture some more real-life, everyday moments. Of course, this does not mean that I take too many photos sometimes, or that sometimes I should just put down the camera, but I do know that sometimes having the camera there helps me focus (no pun intended? maybe?) a bit more on the here-and-now.

    3. I am putting the finishing touches on an (epic) album documenting my daughter’s first month of life. The album consists of photos** from those first 31+1 days, plus bits of journaling that I wrote at that time. The journaling was a precious, precious reminder of thoughts that weren’t necessarily captured in the photos (or explained photos that I took that otherwise would have been less-than-explainable). However, I am so glad that I had so many photos, because they sparked other memories that I could then record in writing along with the notes I’d already written. Perhaps this is a special case (since certainly just after childbirth, you’re in quite a haze! haha), but I know that this has happened for me in other cases– photos have helped me to remember moments that otherwise would have been lost to my poor memory.

    **this was just before I started adding metadata captions!

    (and now I have to go and actually listen to that NPR clip!!)

  • Robin Gale Conlin

    I was the one who sent the link to you. Thanks for getting it on the roundtable so quickly. It was great to hear you all discuss the topic. It made me proud to be a scrapbooker because even though we take a lot of pictures, when we go back and create a layout, we recount the story and write it down for future generations. Non scrapbookers may take pictures and post them on Facebook or instagram, but rarely revisit them and the moment gets lost and forgotten. Great show!


  • Jennifer Larson

    I heard that NPR piece on the radio and remember thinking immediately, “Well, of course photos alone don’t store the memory–that’s why I scrapbook!” I also remembered wondering if the study was in any way exploring the selfie/snapchat/ephemeral photography that is so prevalent among kids (and Izzy!) today.

    Here’s my problem with the study reported on NPR: Photography is often an interactive experience for me. I take a picture and interact with my subject, so the experience of taking a picture is deepened in my memory as a result of that interaction. If I am not interacting with my subject–when I’m taking pictures of my garden, e.g.–then I interact with it when I share them on Facebook, or when I share it with my grandmother, or when I scrap them.

    I got the idea that the study focused mainly on using photography as a vault for memories. I don’t do that, and the scrappers that I know don’t either. If anything, this study reminds us to do something with those photos to strengthen the memories, and that’s always a good suggestion.

    Thanks again for another great show!

  • Jennifer Larson

    Regarding your point about the parental guilt: I have to admit, I’m much less bothered by parents taking lots of pictures on their phones than I am when parents hand phones over to their kids to keep them quiet. I’m trying to withhold judgment, but as an educator, I tend to cringe when I see that.

  • Robin Gale Conlin

    I thought the exact same thing when I heard the piece and immediately sent the link to Noell. I thought it would make a perfect discussion!

  • Louise Ingram

    What a timely discussion for me. My eldest child starts school in September and he had a taste session in his classroom last week as part of the transition. He got to meet his teacher and some of the other children who’ll be starting with him. I forgot to pick up my phone on my way to drop off my other children so I didn’t have my camera with me. I’m still bothered by not having any photos of this experience, especially since my husband couldn’t come with us. What’s more interesting is that my son is upset too. On our way out of school, he said that he was sad that he couldn’t show his dad any “pretend pictures” because I didn’t have my phone. I can’t decide how I feel about this remark but it definitely says something about how often I take pictures of him and his siblings!

  • Ha ha ha! I DO need to have you on!!

  • Thanks for recommending it!

  • Great point!

  • Marie-Pierre Capistran

    That was quite an awesome discussion! I had tons of things going through my mind as I was listening but I’ll just share one now. :)

    We had my daughter’s dance recital 2 weeks ago. For the occasion I had charged my second battery for my camera and I had charged my iPhone to 100% but sure enough, when we left the house, the iPhone stayed on the charging station. One camera less in my purse. I was sad, but still ok since I had my other camera with me. The show started and I started taking pictures and after my oldest daughter’s first number, the battery was empty! I couldn’t believe it! Knowing that my little one would be dancing shortly, I could,t find the 2nd battery in my purse. I was so sad that the rest of the show would pass without pictures but my second thought was: I will be able to look at the show, for once! And I would see it in real dimension and not only through my camera screen!!

    Anyway, I looked again for my battery because I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten it and finally, I found it! I was so relieved!!! So I took tons of pictures, from which I will use maybe 2 or 3. I am happy that I have the pictures now to look back. But I am well aware that once again, I saw this beautiful event through my view finder. I’m sure I missed a lot. And as you were talking, I could imagine my daughters looking at me (we were in the first row) and seeing their daddy smiling and waving, and seeing their mommy with the camera in her face….

    This week, I tried to take one picture when I really felt the need to, and put the phone away after that.

    Thanks again for a wonderful and thought provocative show!!

  • ladywing

    totally made me laugh too after having gone thru some of my Canadian roots without fur traders!

  • Sandy Baldwin

    The child who sees a camera in mum’s hand or in front of her face all the time…that reference made me think of the vloggers out there who film their daily family life and post it on youtube. The kids in those families literally arrive into the world in front of a camera and it continues their whole life.

  • Back again! I have another question for everyone totally unrelated to this topic….. Family Heritage Photos. I recently had all of the one of a kind family photos professionally scanned, restored, and digitally archived. Now that that is done, I am slowly making my way through and scrapbooking the originals. I came across some old family portraits which are 13×10 in size (obviously a little large for a scrapbook) which will not ever be hung on a wall again and have turned an ugly redish brown color. You can still see who the subjects are and make out the details….. Here is the dilemma….
    1. Do I keep the original tucked away and scrapbook a reprint?
    2. Trim the original down to 10×12 and scrapbook?
    3. Toss the original and get a new pretty print to scrapbook?

    I am seriously so torn on what to do. Ms. Shimelle has talked about making digital copies and then scrapping the original as is particularly since have two copies of the photo takes up precious space. And a part of me says “But it’s the precious only copy of the original” eventhough I have digital copies. I need some help of getting out of this mind dilemma I am in! Thanks ladies/Izzy/Noelle/anyone else!

  • I personally think this story is a GREAT example of why maybe the NPR piece doesn’t have the whole picture yet. We do have memories where cameras aren’t present and it sucks to look back on them and say I wish I had photos. I think we are aware that our memory slips and sometimes having photos as anchor points is helpful in keeping it from slipping. Not to mention that you have a child who appreciates and enjoys and believes part of life is to have momma taking photos to share!

  • Hi, Gwynn! How old is the photo? If it’s older than a certain date — maybe the 60’s? — then cropping the photo will make it deteriorate faster. So if it’s an older photo you should rule out option #2.
    Otherwise — I find myself in this kind of dilemma, too! When it comes to older photos like my childhood and earlier, I mainly scrap with a print from my digital scan and store the original. But with my more recent older photos — such as college age, I feel more comfortable scrapping the original once I’ve scanned it. I guess it’s a comfort zone/personal preference/how much space do you have in your home – sort of thing.
    BTW, congrats on getting all those photos taken care of!!!

  • I enjoyed your discussion this week. The word is I believe ..balance! I have a question on another subject. I like to present the products that I stock on my website with interesting descriptions that maybe will inspire and perhaps also educate customers.
    I look at new collections/new products and I want to know the how and why, even better how to’s.
    On the Home page of the manufacturers there is no story. What was the designer inspired by? How did a collection come together?
    I have spoken to designers a couple of times and was delighted with the degree of passion they had and the very clear comprehension they shared as to what motivated them.
    Every day I read the most marvellous posts from bloggers using these products and I wonder how much texturally richer the crafting industry could be if there were peeks into the whole process involved in the development of collections and products.
    Not for a second am I suggesting a novel ….instead meaningful insight.

  • Oi! I did now know that! Thanks for the heads up Noell. The photos were taken after my brother was born – so 1976ish. However, they are super discolored and ugly, the restored prints are much nicer. I just finding it so hard to justify scrapping a reprint when in all honesty lugging around all this ephemera and photos is kinda hard – I have moved 8 times in 6 years… And thanks for the congrats! I felt super accomplished and then found another 500 photos that need to be done lol

  • Debbie Stember

    I don’t think Henkel’s memory experiment was entirley valid as described. If she had told the participants that there would be a memory test and that they would not be allowed to reference the photos I do not think that there would be as great a disparity in remembered details. If they had been told the point was to observe they would have done that, but they were told the point was to take a photo, so that’s what they focused on.

  • :) Anytime!!

  • Niki Ruda

    I have personally noticed that when I am intent on capturing video or taking photos that I am not in the moment and truly enjoying or experiencing what is really happening in front of me. I have changed my “focus” to capture shorter nuggets of video (is anyone ever really going to watch it again?) and take just a few photos and set the equipment down and enjoy! I had to laugh with one of the panelists in regard to stepping outside, taking the photo and then going back inside…guilty as charged! I have done this with my kids when they are all bundled up in their winter gear to go sledding, I poke my nose and camera outside long enough to get a photo, say “have fun!” and retreat back into the warmth of my home!

    My Pick of the Week: which more than one panelist has selected is my Silhouette Cameo!

  • Gabrielle McCann

    I’m not finished listening yet but just had to jump in after something Debbie said prompted me. Debbie mentioned attending a funeral after her cousin reached out to her on FB. We went to Cebu (Phillipines) last week and I posted on FB when we got to the resort. Another friend posted that they were at the same resort and we caught up the next day. They were going swimming with whale sharks the following day and invited us to join them. This wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t post that original photo to FB and it was one of the best experiences of my life to date!

  • Gabrielle McCann

    Yes Melissa, I’d love to hear you on … and as a fellow Aussie, I can tell you I DO have convict blood – my great great great great grandfather stole pillows! I’ve done a LO on it too!

  • oOOH I must see it!! :) Do you have it online somewhere?

  • Gabrielle McCann

    I’ll have to see if I can find it

  • Awesome!

  • Pillows?! Wow…!!

    Have you done other ancestor scrapbooking, or was this story so rich that you just had to scrap it.

  • Ummm, that was supposed to be a question mark, not a period. It was a question. :)

  • Gabrielle McCann

    OK, I just found it and uploaded it to Paperclipping – I’ll see if I can link here

  • Gabrielle McCann


  • Gabrielle McCann

    Noell, my dad is really into our family history and has done a TON of research. He has found out that Timothy Minehan, my great great grandfather, was 14 when he was convicted of stealing pillows and transported to Australia in 1833. This is the only anscestor scrapping that I’ve done but it’s such a great story I had to scrap it – especially when dad had a picture of him too!

  • teddi

    i had read the article, but haven’t heard the NPR discussion. this was an excellent thought provoking roundtable episode! i thought of my experience when i went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. there was a point when i just started snapping the photos to help me remember, instead of really looking at the paintings. usually at art museums we aren’t allowed to take pics, so normally i spend more time taking the artwork in. that way i can try to remember the art later. sometimes I’ll even write down how i felt or what it makes me think of. in this instance, i wish i had done both: been in the moment observing, & snapped a photo of my fave paintings that i wanted to recall. i was glad i took photos though because when i looked back at them a week later or whenever, i was reminded of paintings i had forgotten i’d seen.

    yes we are human & we don’t remember things exactly the same way or even accurately. when i reread my high school journals i read details i was surprised about because i had remembered them differently. it’s like that episode where you talked macro & micro. when i wrote in the journals i was thinking of what was happening in the moment. when i reread them, i saw patterns, themes, certain people. it showed a bigger picture. of course i still felt the emotions & drama. i was like, well then what happened?

    photos really are memory triggers for me & even my mom. i’ve been on skype with my mom showing her old photos she took from my childhood & she remembers different details at different times. what i mean is, maybe one time she’ll say, yeah that was chistmas at your grandma’s. how do you know? she’ll say look at where the door is, or the table. i think your uncle made that table. maybe another time, she’ll say, see the christmas tree? it has all blue lights, & that’s how your grandma decorated her tree. then my mom might talk about how she decorated our christmas tree with all red lights instead of blue. another time maybe she’ll say, look at the window. those were your grandma’s old curtains, before i sewed her new ones. another day she might tell me about the christmas she bought herself a sewing machine.

    it’s the same for me. maybe i scrapbooked a page years ago about me eating a rainbow ice cream cone, & i wrote about how i don’t think they make rainbow cones anymore. then i look at the page today, & i see that i was sitting at our old white kitchen table before we got the dark wood one. i see the tiny window behind me before we replaced it with the sliding glass door. another day i might notice my brother’s high chair in the corner, & wonder if it was MY high chair before his, or if his highchair was new. now i think i need to show my mom that photo again & ask her about the highchair. :)