Excited by the view of dolphins from our tour boat, I asked my son, “Did you see them? Did you get them?” Like me and the other passengers, he was trying to photograph these creatures as they breached.
When they disappeared below the surface again, I thought about my questions. Taking a photo had become a priority over experiencing the dolphins’ presence. As my mind processed questions of exposure and composition, I didn’t truly see the colors of their skin or hear their exhalations. I had traded the sensory experience for an image that, at best, would reside on Facebook.
Those of us who routinely witness family gatherings, sports events and concerts through a view finder distance ourselves. We are creating a hoard of precious moments to savor not now but in the future. But the likelihood that we’ll actually review the photos to awaken the awe of the event is small. If we review them at all, chances are we’ll be using a filter of whether they’re “good” or “bad,” flattering or dreadfully honest. The significance of what was happening will have faded.
In fact, researchers have found that many of those who photograph events have a diminished memory of what they saw through the view finder. This result is called the “photo-impairment effect.” That’s an elaborate way of saying we lose the significance our experiences by not being present.
As we motored away from the dolphins, I resolved to be more present in the moment, mindful of all the nuances of what we might encounter. When we came upon a sea turtle later in the tour, I centered my mind on his bulk, the colors of his shell, the curve of his bill.
I didn’t try to take a photo, but I have a rich memory of the experience.