On his 60th birthday, author David Maxfield was boogie-boarding on waves at the beach with his niece.
“I was more intent on getting a good picture than I was in boogie-boarding with my niece,” he said.
That was when he decided to conduct a study of “when preserving a moment gets in the way of having the moment.”
The resulting report, “Society’s New Addiction: Getting a ‘Like’ over Having a Life,” was co-authored with Joseph Grenny and is out today from training and consulting firm VitalSmarts. The pair have co-authored several New York Times bestsellers on behavior and communication, and Grenny’s previous work includes a study on “electronic displays of insensitivity.”
Using online survey data from more than 1600 respondents taken last month, the authors found out that what they call “this obsession with social media interactions” is not uncommon.
Ninety-one percent of respondents reported seeing a tourist miss a tourist-y moment because they were trying to share it on social media. Many said they were guilty of the same practice.
Nearly 80 percent say they have seen a parent shortchange participation in a child’s life because of the need to “capture the perfect post.”
The authors quote a three-year-old’s mother, who said:
“I disciplined my son and he threw a tantrum that I thought was so funny that I disciplined him again just so I could video it. After uploading it on Instagram I thought, ‘What did I just do?’”
Another mother recalled that she had video’d her daughter’s dance event. When she was asked if she had seen it, she replied: “No, but we can watch the video.”
People are lowering their enjoyment, the study said, because of anywhere/all-the-time picture-taking and posting that amounts to “trophy-taking.”
“Kill it and put it on the wall and move on to the next,” Maxfield said. “It almost becomes more important to take a picture of an activity than doing it.”
The authors suggest several tips.
Ask yourself if you look silly or reckless in taking a photo or posting, they say. Keep track of how frequently you post, with more than once a day being problematic. Take the picture, and then put the phone or camera away and relish the occasion. Even — gasp! — go someplace without your phone.
I asked Maxfield about the fact that people have been trying to capture their feelings about occasions with sketches and written words for as long as such tools have existed. And, since its beginning, photography has been treasured as a way to preserve evanescent memories forever.
Don’t those things increase happiness?
“I don’t want to demonize devices or technology,” he said, agreeing to the value of note-taking and picture-taking that expands the moment instead of shortchanging it.
But “we should be masters” of the technology, he said, and not let the devices get in the way of living.
He recalled a friend who waited for hours in a line at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.
When people finally got to the famous painting, the friend said, they quickly took a selfie and walked away.
“Take the photo, but savor the moment in an unmediated way,” he said.