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“C’mon, Dad, hurry it up!” said every kid (ever) having his or her picture taken on a family vacation.
“Hold on,” Dad said, “I’ve almost got the lighting right…”
Little did Dad know that we might have been onto something as kids. Indeed, taking a picture changes something about an experience, doesn’t it? And the truth is that it absolutely can have a net positive impact on an experience, through the ability to relive the moment after the fact. But at the same time, the advent of social media has created a sure-fire way to devalue an experience through picture taking, too. First, some context:
As a financial advisor, I spend most of my time helping individuals and families align their financial capital in support of their priorities in life. But once we’ve done the important work of discerning and articulating what’s most important in life, wouldn’t we also want to ensure those values and goals are forming more than one’s financial capital—like labor capital (our jobs) and social capital (our reputation, legacy, and influence within our communities)?
Yes, we’ve learned that spending money on experiences generally incites more happiness than spending money on material goods. But there’s a sure-fire method for devaluing your experiences, too, through picture taking, and it might surprise you. How can we be sure to get less enjoyment from our experiences?
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It’s simple: Take pictures of those experiences with the intent to promote the photos on social media.
Yes, you read that correctly. By taking a picture mid-experience with the intent of posting it on the Instagram or Facebook later, you’re actually reducing the enjoyment you’ll derive from that experience as it unfolds.
Or, as researchers put it in the Journal of Consumer Research, “Across two field and three laboratory studies, we find that relative to taking pictures for oneself (e.g., to preserve one’s memories), taking pictures with the intention to share them with others (e.g., to post on social media) reduces enjoyment of experiences.”
But why? “This effect occurs because taking photos with the intention to share increases self-presentational concern during the experience, which can reduce enjoyment directly, as well as indirectly by lowering engagement with the experience.”
In other words, we’re too concerned about how many likes we will—or heaven forbid, won’t—get on social media that we struggle to maximize happiness in the present moment. We’re too worried about whether or not we’ll look good in the depiction of the experience that we enjoy the experience, itself, less.
In addition to “self-presentational concern,” there may also be a time and space—or mindfulness—issue going on here. As Arthur Brooks and Ellen Langer, two Harvard profs, discussed in their podcast on mindfulness, while prospection (envisioning the future) and retrospection (considering the past) aren’t inherently bad, they are decidedly not mindful appreciation of the present.
So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that if we’re anticipating what someone else will think in the future of our presentation of a past experience, that could lead to less enjoyment of that experience in the present.
That considered, I suppose we can let Dad off the hook, because he certainly didn’t have any intention of putting anything on social media with his 35-millimeter Nikon on our trip to Disney in 1989. Nor am I suggesting that you shouldn’t take that selfie at the concert that is finally happening after being rescheduled twice. But just know that you might enjoy the show a tad more if you keep that phone in your pocket.