Sometimes as lawyers we are so busy taking notes, preserving evidence and creating records that we are not fully present in the moment.
It happens in client interviews when we are engrossed in documenting every word that’s spoken but miss what is really being said. Or in the courtroom where we’re rehearsing our cross-examination even as the witness is testifying.
We may be looking, listening and thinking – but we’re not completely there.
Under The Double Rainbow
Of course this happens off the job as well. Just the other day, after a brief rain shower I looked out my window and saw a double rainbow.
The sight was beautiful, ethereal, almost dreamlike. The colors were rich and vivid. The mighty arch swept across the blue sky.
I stood there, awed, basking in the glory of this magnificent sight.
Then I did what any normal 21st century rainbow-watcher would do and began madly scrambling for my camera. When at last I found it I raced outdoors. On the sidewalk pedestrians had gathered, all of them gazing skyward. Cyclists stood straddling their bikes. Cars had pulled over to the side of the road, drivers craning out the windows.
And every single one of us was doing the same thing: pointing and clicking our cameras, smart-phones and assorted digital devices. We wanted to preserve the image. We were trying to capture the moment so we could share it with others and savor it later.
After the rainbow vanished, I went back inside. Sure enough, I had gotten some nice shots. But I had the nagging feeling that I had missed something.
It turns out I probably did.
Living Life Behind a Screen
Researchers at Fairfield University conducted a study in which students at a museum were asked to either take pictures or just look at certain pieces of art. Next day, their memories were tested. Turns out the ones who used their eyes instead of a camera had greater recall of specific details of the artwork. It seems the act of photographing the event inhibited full participation in it.
Valerie Anderson, author of “Happiness as a Second Language,” puts it this way:
“Why put a screen between you and your life? It’s isolating enough when you’re alone in front of a computer, but now we’re doing it even when out among the swarm. What are we doing with all of these must-film-every-second videos, anyway? Has anyone actually ever watched one? Does anyone think the back-row cinematographer at the Earth, Wind and Fire concert is going to sit in front of his computer and gape at it again, ever?
Experiencing Self vs. Remembering Self
A recent TED talk addressed the same question:
“[W]e can enjoy the sight of a beautiful mountain and be caught up awe in the moment, or we can enjoy a beautiful mountain and wonder how we are going to take a picture and show it to our friends. Is it worth losing part of the experience in order to better remember it in the days or years to come? What is important is not the memories we have but rather the quality of our experiences. Instead of focusing on the memory of an experience (by taking photos, making mental structures, writing things down, etc), we should strive to achieve a state of flow, a state in which we fully immerse ourselves in the present moment, undistracted by thoughts of the past or the future. By doing so, I believe we will find satisfaction in each experience in the present, rather than always looking to the satisfaction to be had in the future through our memories of the past.”
- Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2520743/Want-remember-event-DONT-photos-Study-finds-using-camera-stops-brains-recalling-crucial-details.html
- TED Talks http://www.ted.com/conversations/11352/should_we_live_in_the_moment_o.html
- Valerie Anderson http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-alexander/stop-capturing-the-moment_b_3992335.html
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man has practiced in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at email@example.com.