Your smartphone can capture experiences to watch forever, but they shouldn't be the experience

There's an increasingly common tendency for people to automatically catalogue their lives, but Craig Grannell wonders if we now too often undermine moments we'd like to remember
Sony Xperia Z2

The sonographic instrument used at our visit to the hospital was all dials and switches – resembling technology from another era.

But for that moment, hearing the heartbeat of our unborn child, it was the most amazing piece of technology I'd ever witnessed. For a short while, we paused and just listened, mesmerised by the echoes and rhythms, allowing the reality to set home of what they meant.

Eventually, my wife asked the midwife, "Could we record this?‚" and the midwife quietly nodded, clearly very familiar with such requests. And so I finally found a use for the Voice Memos app on my iPhone, and have the heartbeat of our unborn child recorded.

Apple iPhone 5c
Sony Xperia Z2

That moment unleashed all kinds of thoughts regarding life changes and fatherhood, but further reflection has also made me ponder the nature of technology, and especially how smartphones now infiltrate our everyday lives. I realised how happy I was the events that occurred happened in the order that they did: I experienced an important moment in my life and once I'd taken it in was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to record it for posterity.

Often, though, there's a tendency for people to be so desperate to capture an important moment for all eternity that they miss what was so special about the moment in the first place. For example, at gigs in recent years I've watched as a sea of faces, occasionally interrupted by an obnoxious camera flash, has been replaced by an army of glowing rectangles; instead of taking in an event, people watch through a tiny display. Rather than being a surrogate for memory and a tool for communication, smartphones are slowly becoming a replacement for eyes and minds.

Apple Garageband

Perhaps this is now just the nature of how things are, and I do think back to what I've 'lost' from the pre-smartphone era. My childhood is recorded in a relatively small number of photographs, taken using rickety 1970s and 1980s cameras; the pictures were primarily curated and defined by waiting for a moment, and wanting to 'save' the last few shots on a roll of film for something special.

Countless songs that entered my brain as I walked to and from university in the 1990s never got a chance to live, because I had no way of quickly getting them down (lacking the ability to write music, and also discovering that, no, humming into a dictaphone just won't cut it).

Sony Xperia
Apple iPhone 5c

By contrast, we now live in an age where nothing really needs to be lost, but seemingly everything needs to be recorded. Instead of creating admittedly often staged but also prized tomes of cherished memories, we immediately consign an endless stream of content to digital graveyards, never to be experienced again. Content remains forever buried in dusty hard drives and dustier corners of social networks, long forgotten, and, importantly, never really taken in at the time.

Perhaps it's time to rethink precisely why recording equipment is so magical; cameras and other equipment aren't supposed to be removing or compromising amazing experiences, but instead later reminding us of a great moment in our lives. But that cannot work if we never fully experience those moments in the first place, and if there's such a deluge of unlabelled, unorganised content that you cannot pick out the gems through the noise.