On Memory and The Holiday Paradox
Remember when summer used to last ? Psychologists Wittmann and Lenhoff, out of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, found that individuals older than 40 felt that time elapsed more slowly in their childhood but accelerated through their teenage years and adulthood. This perceptual phenomenon, dubbed, “The Holiday Paradox,” is explained below:
Our brain encodes new experiences, but not familiar ones, into memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period. In other words, the more new memories we build on a weekend getaway, the longer that trip will seem in hindsight.
For this reason, I’ve always tried to travel on my birthday. The novelty of travel anchors the moment in time, punctuating it in my mind.
I’ve noticed this phenomenon occurs in photography as well. I have a cell phone teeming with snapshots of my daily life, and a small collection of professional photographs of my family framed on my walls. If you asked me to described an iPhone photograph I’ve taken, or appear in, I couldn’t.
Try it now for yourself: attempt to visualize any one of the photographs in your camera library from, say, two months ago. Despite the quantity, my guess is you’re unable to reassemble the anatomy of a single frame in your mind.
On the other hand, the professional portraits I’ve commissioned, I’ve also visually memorized. This is facilitated by the fact that these images are printed, framed, and hung in my home (or laid out in photo albums.) I can recall the professional portrait of my brother and I as children, more accurately than I can a snapshot I took with my cell phone yesterday. In fact, I can remember the experience of having the portrait made, decades ago, better than much of the amorphous swath of time that occurred in the interim.
It’s our responsibility to be intentional in how we utilize our one, dizzyingly brief, life. I’m not an expert, but I know it’s something I want to practice. It’s easy to put off professional portraiture in favor of a legion of cell phone captures; it’s comfortable to shrug off pursuing a new experience, in favor of an effortless, inexpensive night of television. But it leaves you with a void where there could be a memory. I’m interested in fully investing in the right now-ness of my life, and I’m elated to help others do the same.