To document or not to document?

“Pics or it didn’t happen”, goes the notorious saying I feel like I have heard too many times. A phrase that I believe completely ruins certain aspects of travel. Picture your favourite moment on your last vacation. The image of mine very much lives in my head as opposed to a photo on my phone. In today’s society, it’s extremely easy to get caught up in going to the most “instagrammable” locations and snapping aesthetically pleasing photos.

A real-life example of this is the ‘#poppynightmare’ used by city locals to describe the neglect inflicted on the super bloom poppies that flourished on the hills of Walker Canyon, in Lake Elsinore. Social media influencers flocked just to get snaps of themselves covered in flowers and consequently many poppies were crushed.

Whilst a photo can document a scene, whether it be a picture of the sunset or a snapshot of you and your friends, it cannot document the genuine feeling and beauty to its fullest extent, and in this case has even ruined it.

It’s safe to say that the essence of living in the moment and taking in the beauty of the location undeniably beats any piece of photograph. My most precious memories from holidays are moments of laughter and pure happiness that I have shared with my loved ones, and those memories are unforgettable.

Psychologist Linda Henkel conducted a study with 28 university students where they were asked to observe 15 objects and photograph 15 others in a museum. Having been tested the next day, they were less able to remember details of objects they had photographed than those which they had observed.

She found that taking photos seemingly led to an “impairment effect”. The irony in us documenting moments we wish to never forget is that we are actually rewriting over the memory by doing so. We expect the camera to remember things for us, so we don’t have to continue to process the object or engage with it. But isn’t travelling all about engagement?

To embrace a new location, to discover and indulge into a foreign culture, to see and fully take in unique views whose beauty could never truly be given justice through a photograph, but only experienced through the eyes of the beholder.

And so, to reflect on the saying that if you didn’t take pictures, you never really went there, I would say this is the expression that feeds the majority of us in today’s social media-swept generation.

Have you ever gone on a trip without posting anything on Instagram? I certainly haven’t. We continuously post our travels for everyone to see and honestly, it is not surprising nowadays. 

Articles have suggested the ‘FOMO’ culture, the Fear of Missing Out, is to blame for. Individuals may feel anxiety from being “excluded” from the activities of their friends or associates through their social media platforms, and therefore post their photos like a spectacle for followers to witness. I’m not saying whenever you document a photo on holiday, this is the case. But are you truthfully relishing your surroundings, or are you simply keeping up with online appearances?

I can safely say that the true joy of travelling comes from the memories that you create. And these memories will last in your mind with so much meaning. But, do you or do you not document these?

My word of advice would be, document the special, and beautiful moments and save them. But don’t let these be mindless photos that you’ve taken to post, let them serve as a reminder of your unmatched, unique memories.

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Dhananja Kulatilake

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October 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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