If you’ve read this far, you know a few things about our human brains. They lie to us about the information we perceive. Our memories are unreliable. Even if our memories and our perception were perfect, our brains would not be powerful enough to process all of the sensory data we take in. And we use some of the most amazing technology the world has ever created to take high-definition, high-dynamic-range pictures of babies, kitties, and other ephemeral cuteness — little more than pleasant digital wallpaper for our daily lives.
How much wallpaper? Brace yourself for some really big numbers.
More pictures are taken every two minutes today than were taken during the entire 1800s. 
How is this possible? According to the ITU, an agency of the UN, we reached a worldwide inflection point sometime around 2016, when the number of worldwide cellphone subscriptions outgrew the number of people actually living on this planet!
Ericsson published similar findings, estimating the total number of mobile subscriptions at around 8 billion in 2020. Of those, about 6.1 billion were smartphone subscriptions.
For all of the stat-doubters out there, let me acknowledge the obvious: of the approximately 7.75 billion people on this planet, about 1.2 billion have no access to electricity, let alone cell phones. And 130 million infants are born every year. (I hope we aren’t delivering smartphones and babies in the same package!) Obviously, those groups, among others, will not own smartphones. The numbers demonstrate that people have more than one device — one phone for work, another for personal use, perhaps one more for international travel, not to mention tablets and connected peripherals — which accounts for the oversized number of subscriptions we see today.
The stats are potentially misleading if you don’t read them carefully. But they do appear to accurately represent the mobile market.
Smart devices deliver an immense value to the world’s population. They connect us with others. They make us more productive. They keep our minds entertained and they let us access the world’s collective knowledge at the touch of a button or the tap of a screen.
Studies from Deutsche Telekom and others have documented the ways that we have become more addicted to smartphones than ever:
The ascendancy of smartphones has not just changed the way people communicate; it has altered their existing behaviors.
An article in Vox identifies one unforeseen consequence of the smartphone boom: it corresponds to a decline in chewing gum sales.
Supermarket checkout lines — strategically stocked with magazines and candy — were for a long time a major point of sale for gum. Consumers waiting on line to pay would look around and make impulse buys. Now, however, we’re so consumed with our phones that we’re not reaching for a pack of gum to stave off our boredom. Indeed, gum sales have declined 15 percent since 2007, the year the iPhone came out, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.
Smart devices have literally replaced bubble gum for the brain.
Our experience with the new pocket technology isn’t just passive. With all the imaging power available through all these devices, we are generating more content than at any other time in history.
Kodak once trumpeted the news that consumers set a new all-time record by capturing 80 billion photos in the year 2000.
That number seems downright quaint compared to the recent explosion in image capture. According to one set of estimates, the number of photos taken each year is rising at a compound annual growth rate of 8.3%.
Researchers estimate that 1.43 trillion images were captured in 2020, with the numbers climbing to 1.56 trillion by 2022. (These statistics don’t include security cameras or other images not uploaded to the Internet.)
This massive growth means 7.4 trillion images will have been taken, in total, by 2020, with 9.3 trillion images being stored by the end of 2022.
More than 9 trillion images are estimated to be stored by the end of 2022
According to projections, nearly 20% of all the pictures ever taken in the history of photography will be captured in 2021.
Almost 20% of all photos ever taken are expected to be captured in 2021
There are so many images generated that the average American—whose picture may be taken at or near home, while driving, while at work, or while shopping and running errands—is caught on camera more than 230 times a week! (No surprise when you consider that the U.S. has one surveillance camera for every 4.6 people.)
Information scientists have calculated that, in addition to the massive amount of imagery we are generating, we are unconsciously processing more information today than at any other time in history:
We are sharing content with the online world at astounding rates.
According to statistics collected by business-intelligence firm Domo, in a single minute we add 500 hours of new video to YouTube, we upload 147,000 photos to Facebook; we post 347,222 new stories on Instagram; and we share 41,666,667 messages on Whatsapp. 
Computer gaming consumers more bytes than all other media put together,
including DVDs, TV, books, magazines and the Internet
Interestingly, we are drawn to posts and selfies on social media. On Instagram, pictures with human faces are 38 percent more likely to receive likes and 32 percent more likely to attract comments than other images.
And multiple studies confirm we are spending an unprecedented amount of time in front of our various displays. Unless you’re the one person on the planet that still prints out their email (I’m looking at you, Mom), you’re reading from a display right now. In fact, unlike at any other time in history, we are spending most of our waking hours today looking at flat 2D displays and devices. 
Nielsen, for example, tells us the amount of time the average U.S. adult spends looking at screens every day spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. We now invest 13 hours and 28 minutes of our day in screen time — watching TV or DVDs, playing videogames, browsing the web, scrolling through social media.
Think about it. Do the math.
At these rates, an average lifetime of 75 years would include roughly 25 years sleeping and 42 years staring at some kind of device. You spend more time on your devices than you do eating, drinking, grooming, socializing and sleeping combined!
In an average lifetime: 25 years sleeping, 42 years on displays
Just two years ago, Nielsen calculated that TV-watching was, by a large margin, the single most time-consuming activity in our lives. But in 2020, we began spending even more time with our smartphones, computers, game consoles and other Internet-connected devices than with our TV sets.
What else could you do with the amount of time you spend on your devices? You have plenty of alternatives.
How is it possible that these displays and devices have become so critical to our lives? When we use them, we are still staring at flat images, not unlike the scenes our distant ancestors painted on cave walls.
Critics have wondered if these numbers are inflated. Some activities may be double-counted (let’s say someone is on social media at the same time that they’re watching television), and there is reason to question the reliability of self-reported statistics. But even if these are just ballpark figures or even guesstimates, the numbers are still staggering.
Any way you look at it, it seems undeniable that we are more dependent on our smart mobile devices than on anything else throughout the history of mankind. Is our ability to amass oversized collections of digital photos that “document” our lives helping us strengthen our memories? Or is it diverting our attention from the experiences that matter?
And hold on a second — are we even actually looking at all those pictures we are taking?
"Research has suggested that the sheer volume and lack of organization of digital photos for personal memories discourages many people from accessing and reminiscing about them. In order to remember, we have to access and interact with the photos, rather than just amass them."
— Linda Henkel, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Fairfield University 
How is it possible that technology so central to our lives — the undersized, two-dimensional screens of our favored computers and mobile devices — is disconnected from the way we see and interact with the world around us? Could the problem be that flat digital images don’t adequately reflect reality?
No matter how good your smartphone camera is, it still compresses your life into underwhelming visuals that hardly compare to your lived experiences.
Smartphone manufacturers know this. It’s why depth-sensing technologies like LiDAR are built into high-end tablets and smartphones. Those sensors collect more information about the shape and position of objects in the world around them than smartphones can gather by collecting light on an image sensor. Your phone may use that data to generate fake bokeh (the pleasingly soft, out-of-focus quality typically found in the background of images captured by larger-format cameras) that makes portraits pop out from their surroundings. Or it may place digital imagery inside real-world environments, letting you see animated objects in your living room by looking through your smartphone screen.
One day, similar but much more advanced techniques like volumetric and light-field imaging will help photographers capture pictures that actually do justice to what we view with our own two eyes. A light-field display will be able to regenerate those scenes to impressive effect, conjuring engaging, captivating three-dimensional images that really look like the images we see in the real world.
Wouldn’t that be amazing? And what could it mean for our brains?
You may suspect, correctly, that I’ve done some research and drawn some conclusions about this. Stay tuned.