In Defense of the Camera Wielding Tourist

While finding photo spots and permuting family members in photos on a Fan-mily road trip, I had a (non) epiphany.

Taking pictures doesn’t ruin the experience of “being in the moment,” but rather reinforces it.

Just like how writing an idea down helps reinforce it in your brain, taking a picture of an event helps cement the scene. The few seconds spent framing a photo, putting it in focus, and pressing the shutter, make the difference in remembering a scene. And when memory fails or is simply inaccurate, the digital copy is always there. 1

But something nags at me. Is this how I want to remember and document my life? Do I want the (literal) picture perfect version encoded digitally and mentally, or do I prefer the imperfect and embellished story that I create? Should my memory be a computer?

After I stopped meticulously handwriting my life in diaries, I’ve started treating documentation as a side thought–a page scribbled in my notebook,  a note on Google Keep, a blurry picture from my phone. Something I don’t want to put too much effort in. In writing, I control what to include, how to frame things, whether to leave out (or include) any embarrassing details. And a blurry picture only catches the impression of things, leaving no details to scrutinize.

And looking back, these fragmented records become all I can remember. Pretty depressing huh.

Nope. Luckily, I have a subconscious that remembers things that I won’t.

Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you’ve lost the source of. It works, but you don’t know why.

-How You Know, Paul Graham

This means everything that happens will have some effect on how I perceive the world (The environment I grow up in affects who I become. What a surprise!!!) Whether this is a) false comfort at not being able to remember anything or b) encouragement to try anything and everything, I’ve mentally filed this under “quotes I should reread every once in a while.”

That is all. 2


  1. This assumes that the other 4 senses are irrelevant to an experience. So don’t go around carrying an SLR taking pictures of everything that looks photogenic. Oh wait. 
  2. Note to self: Stop writing pretentious posts about writing with pretentious footnotes. Get to the actual substance. Seriously. 
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2 thoughts on “In Defense of the Camera Wielding Tourist

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