One of my favorite shrines I had the chance to visit in Japan was the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto. The shrine grounds are uniquely picturesque—the winding pathways are scattered with miniature shrines and lined with thousands of orange torii gates. I had a hard time resisting the urge to take photos as we strolled through the mountainside.
As a result, I took roughly fifty iPhone photos of Fushimi Inari, all of which can be found in my personal photo library. But these fifty photos pale in comparison to the thousands of professional photos that are readily available with a quick google image search of “kyoto fushimi inari.” I was completely aware of the plethora of photos available on google as I made my way through the shrine, yet I chose to take my own iPhone photos.
Beyond this, nearly every one of my friends chose to take their own photos of the exact same scene. This happens everywhere—concerts, sporting events, gorgeous landscapes—you name it. With the advent of cell phones and personal cameras, it has become commonplace to see a handful of people photographing identical scenes.
There are two main reasons why someone might take a photo: (1) to share the moment, or (2) to remember the moment. A professional photo is often adequately suited, if not preferred for either purpose. With this in mind, artists like Jack White have hired professional photographers for their shows, providing concert-goers with free, high-quality photos and allowing people to devote their undivided attention to the present moment. But people still attempt to take their own photos…why?
The IKEA Effect
A possible explanation lies in what researchers have termed the IKEA effect. At it’s core, the IKEA effect posits the idea that labor leads to love. Researchers have found that consumers tend to assign a higher value to products they have self-assembled than to pre-assembled products of similar quality. In our minds, the addition of our own labor increases the value of a product.
You might value the coffee table you assembled from IKEA more than the one your friend bought pre-assembled at Target, though they are in large part identical. Yours might even be more likely to fall apart in a few months.
This example deals with the furniture in your house, but the same could be said for the photos in your camera roll.
You might like the concert photo you took with your iPhone last weekend more than the one another concertgoer took with professional equipment, though they both capture the same thing. Your photo might even be a bit blurrier and hard to make out. Still, you will most certainly show your own photo to your friends—you might even make a print of it to hang on your wall.
The Balance of Time
As technology improves our ability to take a quality photo with little technical knowledge, it reduces the need for professional equipment and skill. Anyone with a phone can and will do it—the amount of labor required is minimal, and the increase in (personal) valuation is significant.
Unfortunately, such a system incentivizes us to lose sight of the present moment and its inherent beauty. We do not want to forget what we want to remember. As a result, our efforts are aimed at preserving the option to remember the present moment at a later date—an action which prompts us to discount the present moment in favor of the future.
There must be a way to preserve the sanctity of the present moment while keeping this option for future remembrance open. I believe the answer to this dilemma lies somewhere in our ability to overcome the IKEA effect—the mechanism which prompts our increased valuation for similar goods, merely because we took the photo.