Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Psychological Effects of Image Overload

Twenty-four percent of U.S. teens say they’re online “almost constantly.” Now much of that time, it seems, is spent incessantly compiling and navigating vast collections and streams of images.

In a 2014 survey, the photo sharing app Instagram supplanted Twitter as the social media platform considered “most important” by U.S. teens.

These results stayed the same for 2015, confirming just how crucial image sharing and consumption have become to young people’s everyday online experiences. Not surprisingly, Facebook and Twitter have since become more image-driven. And Snapchat – which enables users to create and share ephemeral photographs and short videos – is one of the fastest-growing social networks.

Indeed, our relationship with photographs is rapidly changing. As we snap, store and communicate with thousands of images on our phones and computers, a number of researchers and theorists are already beginning to point to some of the unintended consequences of this “image overload,” which range from heightened anxiety to memory impairment.

Overwhelmed – and distracted – by images

In the Rhetoric of Photography course that I’ve taught at the University of Texas at Austin over the past few years, image glut was a constant topic of discussion among my students.

They repeatedly expressed feeling overrun by photographs and addicted to posting images. They even waxed nostalgic about the clunky plastic cameras of their childhoods, wistfully recalling the days of limited exposures and a waiting period before seeing their developed prints.

“Images are produced, commodified, made public and circulated on an unprecedented scale,” sociologist Martin Hand writes in his book Ubiquitous Photography.

Image overload hinges on feeling visually saturated – the sense that because there’s so much visual material to see, remembering an individual photograph becomes nearly impossible.

For my students, this feeling was marked at times by general frustration, low-grade anxiety and flat-out fatigue. Image overload also suggests a level of exhaustion with the process of monitoring and creating photo streams – surviving the pressure to digitally document one’s everyday life and to bear witness to others’ ever-growing image banks.

Many accumulate thousands of images on their phones and digital cameras. The daunting task of organizing, altering and deleting these can evoke feelings of dread. Indeed, according to a 2015 report, the average smartphone user has 630 photos stored on his or her device.

by Rebecca Macmillan, The Conversation | Read more:
Image: Penelope Umbrico