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How Digital Photography Is Altering Our Memory

Last week, I ran through all the digital photos I have taken since 2001 to help with a slideshow for a friend’s wedding. It quickly became apparent how changes in technology, specifically sharing services, have dramatically shifted the types of photos that we take, and therefore changed how we shape the memories they capture.

Since I started actively photographing friends and important life moments, we have gone through three major revolutions in technology that have dramatically altered the types of photos we can and do capture.

There was the era before digital cameras and social networks when photos were natural, candid and not posed—what I will call the “Era of Obliviousness.” Then there was the era when, thanks primarily to Facebook and cheap digital cameras, photos became posed and often clustered in albums around groups of people—what I will call the “Era of Sharing.” And now, we are in the “Era of Attention,” when taking photos is less about capturing reality and more about creating content to show off to others to drive attention and feedback.

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Looking back at my first fourteen years of digital photography, what is clear is that history is not only in the eye of the beholder, but a reflection of the beholder’s technology.