A study I came across sometime after reading Foer’s book illustrates the tradeoff between external and internal memories. Psychologist Linda Henkel compared the memories of museum visitors who were instructed to take pictures to those of people who simply viewed the various displays, and she found that taking pictures had a deleterious effect on recall. What seems to be occurring here is that museum visitors who don’t take pictures are either more motivated to get the full experience by mentally taking in all the details or simply less distracted by the mechanics of picture-taking. People with photos know they can rely on them as external memories, so they’re quicker to shift their attention to other things. In other words, because they’re storing parts of the present moment for the future, they have less incentive to occupy the present moment—to fully experience it—with the result that they don’t remember it as well.
Also read: How Violent Fiction Works: Rohan Wilson’s “The Roving Party” and James Wood’s Sanguinary Sublime from Conrad to McCarthy
And: Rebecca Mead’s Middlemarch Pilgrimage and the 3 Wrong Ways to Read a Novel
And: Sabbath Says: Philip Roth and the Dilemmas of Ideological Castration