The night of the elementary school talent show, we came home to celebrate with ice cream when my mother took out her iPhone to show a video she’d taken of my 10-year-old daughter’s performance. My daughter had played Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” on the piano by ear and sang along. Despite her nerves, she got out there in the middle of the stage in a new dress with scattered sequins and sang her best, bowing to an audience of clapping parents before she walked off stage — an expression of relief and pride on her face.
When I saw my mother’s finger hovering over “play” on her phone, my daughter leaning over her shoulder, I stopped her: “You know what … let’s just let her enjoy the moment.”
I’ve seen the way my daughter’s facial expression changes, her eyes squint slightly, and her neck pulls her head back just a little when she watches videos of herself. I knew that in my daughter’s mind she’d felt like a rock star up there, and that seeing the video might surprise her and change the way she remembered the experience. It’s not that her performance wasn’t good — just that it might be slightly different on video than the way she experienced it, the way we all feel when we hear ourselves on a recording and say “Wait — that’s what I sound like?”
I wanted to keep her experience sacred for at least a little bit longer. I wanted to keep it her experience.
It turns out that my hesitancy has a genuine scientific basis. Daniel Schacter, a psychology professor at Harvard whose books include “The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers,” told me, “We know from research that reactivating an experience after it occurs can have large effects on subsequent memory for that experience, and depending on what elements of an experience are reactivated, can even change the original memory.”
Many studies have been done on how a person taking a photograph reinforces or reshapes their memory, but what about our children — the subject of our constant documentation? Does seeing themselves in the third person change or even falsify their memories? Instead of remembering the experience of singing up there on the stage looking out at the audience from her own eyes, my daughter’s memory becomes entangled with the videographer’s perspective from the audience looking up at the stage.
Elizabeth Loftus, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who studies memory, explained: “Experiencing gives you a ‘first’ person perspective. You see others while you act. Watching gives you a ‘third’ person perspective. You learn something about how others see you. I’d say this would ‘add’ to the memory … which in a sense is a kind of reshaping.”
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