• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Fleeting Moments?

When should we record and when should we experience the moment?

May 14, 2014

A colleague of mine, having just returned from a conference, questioned what she saw as a new commonplace practice: audience members taking pictures of the Powerpoint presentations of conference participants during sessions. We debated the advantages and potential problems of this latest trend. On the one hand, it is helpful for the participant to have access to a key slide or data point for later recall. On the other hand, my colleague pointed out that much of what is on the slides is unpublished material, and presenters may not be ready for their data to go public beyond the room. This may be more important in science fields, where sometimes the methods and protocols that set up a study are valuable in and of themselves. I would also imagine that it is distracting to try to present while having much of the audience look at you through the lens of their cell phone's cameras.

This conversation made me think about my classes, where students may want to snap pictures of my presentations or class board notes rather than copying them down. How is snapping a picture in either case different than taking notes? For my students, I am concerned about their learning process. In my experience, taking good notes leads to better recall of course material than simply having images to look at later. But, is my own personal leaning enough to ban the practice for the entire class? Should my students be allowed to make their own decisions about this?  Maybe Google and other search engines are transitioning us away from a note-taking culture, since people can find anything, anytime, later. Have we become an image-stockpiling society, scooping up information in a dragnet fashion to ensure later access?

In my home life, I notice other parents at my children's events who are snapping pictures and recording videos instead of enjoying the live event. It seems that the magic of the moment is being displaced in favor of the ability to watch the recorded moment many times later. Surely I am not the only one who can't imagine people going home and watching my son's band concert again? It was fun the first time, but my child's part was less than a couple of minutes, and I don't want to have footage that could put me in a position of having to watch other people's children play their instruments over and over again.

Mobile smartphone technology seems to be erasing the notion of fleeting moments, whether they are at conference presentations, in class, or at performances. Yet, is the easy access of taking pictures discouraging us from having accountability to the present in a variety of ways?


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