Are videos killing the family holiday?

Like most parents, I imagine, I keep a running list of things I've done well and things I've flubbed.

Help our children get lots of sleep? Check. Play fun, stimulating games at dinner? Score. Have peaceful, stress-free mornings when everyone goes into the day uplifted and on time? Hardly. Produce handsome scrapbooks with carefully captioned memories? Not a one. (We do have a few boxes labelled "keepsakes".)

In all this second-guessing, there's one area where I give myself unqualified high marks: photography. Having grown up surrounded by cameras, I take lots of pictures.

But there's another area where I'm a complete failure: video. Especially as video has assumed a larger role in the culture with YouTube, Instagram and Vine, this shortcoming has come to bother me more.

Then last winter, we visited friends in Vermont. Our hosts took my daughters snow-tubing, and their teenage son captured the action using a selfie stick, video cam and drone. Afterwards, the children disappeared for an hour and produced a brilliant 90-second video of the day, complete with a rock version of Jingle Bells. My tween daughters were rapt. I was bereft.

This summer, I vowed to capture the season on video. I would prove an old dog could learn new clicks. After all, what could go wrong?

I got a bunch of video equipment, which I promptly spread out on the table. With names like "Chesty", "Floaty Backdoor" and "3-Way", the stash seemed more suited to a Red Room than a diaper bag. No wonder this is a young man's game.

On the upside, our children really loved the act of filming. They strapped cameras onto their white-water rafting helmets, preened while scampering on a ropes course, and were excited about making a short movie with their cousins at summer's end.

On the downside, we have so many hours of video, no one will ever watch them. When the girls sat down to edit one video, they bickered over who should be director. And when I gamely used a chesty to shoot my own trip down a zipline, I got so distracted that I smashed into the ground and almost threw out my back.

The workers at these vacation spots, who hate these types of cameras, were not surprised.

"They turn people into hot- dogs," they said. "The guys with the fanciest equipment are the first to get injured."

All this got me wondering: Forget video killing the radio star, is video killing the family vacation?

Mr Nick Confalone says yes.

A television animation writer in Hollywood, California, Mr Confalone grew up with a father who was an early VHS enthusiast and shot short videos of family vacations. A few years ago, Mr Confalone pieced together clips of him and his sister coming downstairs on Christmas morning; the video went viral, garnering millions of hits.

"My father would never try to capture the entire vacation," Mr Confalone said. "He would create moments just for the camera. 'OK, here we are at the Grand Canyon, say a few words', then the camera goes away."

When Mr Confalone became a father three years ago, he followed a similar path. Vine, the platform of six-second videos, was new, and his videos quickly became a hit, attracting 250,000 followers.

Coke, Klondike and Popsicle called, and Mr Confalone's hobby became a profit centre. "One year, I made more money from Vining than I did from writing," he said.

But as Mr Confalone's son grew older, he lost interest.

"When my son was little, I could make funny voices and use him however I wanted," he said.

But soon, his son developed a mind of his own. "Now, I have to stop what he's doing and say, 'Hold on, let me get the right angle,'" Mr Confalone said. "I'm pulling us out of that moment to try to create a version of that moment."

Mr Confalone went from making a Vine a day to one every two weeks. Video, he said, is such an exact record of a moment that it threatens to replace the memories you have of that moment.

Mr Penn Holderness experienced a similar trajectory.

A one-time television reporter in Raleigh, North Carolina, Mr Holderness was struggling to get his young children to stand still for a Christmas photo a few years ago.

Instead, he decided to shoot a video accompanied by a clever song. It proved a hit, so the next year, the family donned matching Christmas jammies and frolicked around the house. Their video made national headlines and had more than 16 million views.

"I think people see a little bit of themselves in our lives," he said.

Mr Holderness was just starting a television production company, and saw an opportunity to "build a family brand", he said.

It worked. Amazon, Target and Monopoly hired Mr Holderness to make videos using their products, and this summer, the family shot a pilot for a reality series.

But while all this was occurring, Mr Holderness began to question how video was changing his family's downtime.

"If something really cool is happening, my wife and I look at each other and say, 'Capturing moments on video is what we do, but why don't we put this in our brain hole?'" he said.

"The idea is, put it in our memories and not in a camera."

Mr Holderness believes there are many upsides to taking video of family vacations, especially when the children do the filming. "It helps them become better storytellers, and they become familiar with the equipment," he said.

But there are also downsides. "I'm just terrified that I'm going to be that dad: 'Oh, my God, that's amazing! Where's my camera?' instead of using my brain and enjoying the moment."

Are all these fears about technology altering the nature of family experiences justified?

Dr Linda Henkel, a cognitive psychologist and memory specialist at Fairfield University, in Connecticut, believes yes. A grandmother who loves to take photographs, Dr Henkel said she wanted to research a situation "where you go someplace and take a bunch of pictures but don't actually review them later on. What does that do to your memory?"

In a study published last year in Psychological Science, Dr Henkel sent students to an art museum and asked them look at some objects and photograph others. In memory tests given later, subjects showed higher recall for the objects they observed without using the camera.

Though more research is needed, Dr Henkel termed this impact the "photo-taking impairment effect".

"When the subject would take a picture, it was like they outsourced their memory," she said. "They're counting on the camera to remember things for them, just like when you turn to your wife and say, 'Make sure you remind me to take the clothes out of the dryer.' You've dumped your memory onto your wife. That's what you're doing with the camera."

A similar thing happens with parents, she warned. "Photos and video will help you remember rich experiences; they're excellent cues," she said. "But if the experience wasn't rich to begin with because you're so distracted taking images you're not paying attention, then what you're remembering won't be as rich."

How do you ensure you're making rich memories? "Be involved in the experience, then talk about it later," Dr Henkel said.

"'So what was your favourite part of the day? Oh, the water was really blue, wasn't it?' That will consolidate the memory. Blue water will forever be part of it."

As summer nears its end, I haven't exactly given up on video, but I no longer think it's some huge failing. I've made peace with my unhipness. And when I do whip out my phone in the future, I'll be inclined to follow the advice of all three of the people I spoke to: Do it for a limited time.

Dr Henkel put it well. "If you want to capture an experience, be selective," she said. "You don't need three or four hours of video. Take a few seconds, maybe ask a few questions or make a few silly faces, then put the device away."

Video can't kill your family vacation if the camera is stuffed in your bag.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2015, with the headline 'Are videos killing the family holiday?'. Print Edition | Subscribe