Put Down the Phone and Pay Attention

CC image use courtesy of Lights Out Photos on flickr
CC image courtesy of Lights Out Photos on flickr

Last week I (and many others) spent a lot of time documenting the Internet Librarian conference, photos, tweets, blog posts, facebook updates. Did the act of digitally documenting the events change anything? Did the process of lifestreaming change my (and others) behavior, perception of what was happening and memories of it. Will we remember it better or worse?

A recent article from CNN Do digital diaries mess up your brain? looks at the effects of lifestreaming.  Just knowing others are watching you may change the types of experiences you choose to have, from books to movies to where you eat and what you wear.

“If we have experiences with an eye toward the expectation that in the next five minutes, we’re going to tweet them, we may choose difference experiences to have, ones that we can talk about rather than ones we have an interest in,” he said.

It also detaches you from what’s happening at the moment. If you’re focused on tweeting what’s happening, you’re not fully engage in what’s happening.

But recording everything you do takes people out of the “here and now,” psychologists say. Constant documenting may make people less thoughtful about and engaged in what they’re doing because they are focused on the recording process, Schwartz said.

What does that do to our actual memories of events? Memories are shaky at best even when you’re completely focused. If you’re only half there, will you remember it later without the aid of digital documentation? What would I rather have a memory of something or documentation of it to prove I was there? What if that documentation goes away?

It makes me think, I do want to be living and experiencing life to the fullest. Does this mean I’ll put down the camera, the cell phone, the laptop? I don’t know. Probably not at conferences, but I’ll be thinking hard about doing it in other areas of my life. What good is lifestreaming an experience if I’m not fully enjoying it?

10 thoughts on “Put Down the Phone and Pay Attention

  1. Bobbi,

    Based on what you presented at IL2009, I’m not surprised to hear you making these points. And they are worth thinking about; it was clear that, during many of the sessions in Monterey, folks were just waiting for the “tweet worthy” comment. You could actually hear the crescendo of keyboards whenever something of interest was said! Toward the end of the conference I stopped even bringing my laptop to the sessions because I was starting to feel a little lifestreaming fatigue.

    I think your observation about how these activities actually change our behavior are accurate, too. The Hawthorne Effect has been a well-known phenomenon in the social sciences for decades now and the way people are behaving at conferences is a good, contemporary example of that effect.


    1. Chris – I’m actually torn on the conference aspect of it. I saw a lot of great tweets from sessions I wasn’t in and sessions I was, but I was taking notes rather than tweeting. But I know what you mean about the “tweet worthy moment” sometimes I’m not sure people take away anything more than that. Plus it puts more pressure on the presenter to make a tweet worthy statement rather than just provide accurate engaging content.

      Truthfully I was thinking more about life away from work & conferences. Or even the gatherings at the C&A. If I’m tweeting the witty on-liners am I fully engaged in whats happening. If I’m checking my phone for tweets or texts am I fully present in the moment? If I put the phone down would I be having a better time, not that I didn’t have a good time. How would that affect my memory of that evening? I really love taking pictures (drives my friends nuts)and I’d really hate to put the camera down, but I can see that if I’m worried about getting a good shot maybe I’m not enjoying the view in that moment. I don’t know but I’m thinking on it.


  2. Hi there!

    Gah! This post just blew out my brain. 😦

    I’ve actually started noticing how often I whip out my Blackberry to take pictures/video of things as they’re happening. I feel like I’m just going to miss out on having a totally epic blog post/Facebook Update/Tweet if I let the opportunity escape me.

    I’m reminded of the scene in City Slickers where Jack Palance, in a candid moment talks about the gorgeous woman that he saw once in a moment of aesthetic perfection, and then rode awaay before he could even get her name. Billy Crystal responds: “Wow, that’s really beautif– … wait, no that’s not, that’s tragic! You could have been with her!”. The idea being that Jack Palance (Curly) would rather have the MEMORY of this woman than the EXPERIENCE of her.

    If I make a tweet, or a post a picture on Flickr, or Facebook something, that experience is “real” for me. I HAVE that experience, and I can go look it up if I need it later. But if all I have is the MEMORY of something, did it really happen? Is my memory of something more beautiful and poetic than the reality of it? Or are we just romanticizing our own forgetfulness? Do we prefer an ephemeral, rose-colored memory over the cold, honest truth? Do I need to actually find some kind of illegal drugs to even process this blog post?

    I’m going to let my brain cool off now. 😦


    1. I wonder though is the documentation for ourselves or for others. I mean the reason we post it to twitter or facebook is because we are sharing it with others. If we were only recording for ourselves, no one else would see it, how would that change how we behave?


  3. My opinion has always been that it’s better to talk to someone who is there in front of you and be part of what is going on right now than to try to document it or fuss with something.

    Have you read the Art of Mindful Living? Great book! I recommend it in audiobook. It teaches you to focus on the right now and the moment rather than the constant distractions. Still the waters of your mind to see clearly.


    1. Jeff I haven’t read that book, but I’m putting in on my to-read list right now. And checking to see if my library has it as an audiobook. Thank you for the recommendation!


  4. Guess I’ll be the dissenter. Or maybe I should say what works for me may not work for you. Tweeting for me actually helps me focus better. I can not listen and hand write notes. I fail miserably and I actually pay too much attention to what I’m trying to spell or write clearly (which I don’t do I have chicken scratch for handwriting) that I miss 90% of what the person is saying. Now, for a lot of people that isn’t the case. So for me things like Twitter or using a document and typing my notes works wonders. My fingers can fly over the keys and I honestly take everything in much better because I’m not worrying about spelling or handwriting.

    Also as someone who loves to document (e.g. take pictures) I take more in behind the lens than in front of it. Even if I’m not snapping away I am constantly scoping the location trying to take things in (and my ears are working fine even if my eyes are busy).

    I think the problem is everyone is different. There probably are people out there that their brain capacity diminishes when they use technology just like me that do better with the use of technology. Just boils down to the individual – are they Tweeting worthy moments as one person said or are they taking notes.

    Think being librarians we fit into the role of documentarians rather well. I just hope those that can do it without overloading their brains do it and the rest and reap the benefits of their work. 🙂


    1. Beth you make some good points. I also think there is a difference between note taking (whatever form including twitter) at a conference or a learning environment and casual life.

      I do think its possible to do both things be present and document the experience. But I’ve also seen people so busy taking pictures or filming that they aren’t interacting with others. I think awareness might be the key. All things in moderation right?


  5. Huh, funny that you should mention this as I’m currently “eavesdropping” on a conference happening in Cleveland right now. I remember being at Yellowstone with my family and being adamant that “you can’t take a picture of everything.” So I was the only one that saw the wolf, because I wasn’t looking for a picture opportunity. But then, I did get to see pictures of bears while I was in the lodge, not feeling well.

    As an earlier commenter mentioned, I do often see things better if I see them from behind the lens. But I generally find things to take pictures of when I’m by myself and in a contemplative mood. Case in point, I took 2 pictures total at my h.s. reunion.

    But I have also sat across from someone I just met who ignored me to “play” with their I-phone.

    Good post. You always get me thinking.


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