I remember the days when my parents would show me old photos of themselves in their heyday. It was cool to see mum in her 70s gear, complete with afro, and dad spinning tunes at some hot party. I loved seeing photos of my grandparents, in family photos, looking dapper in their Sunday Best.
The other day I had a thought… What will I show my grandchildren? I don’t print photos anymore. I don’t really know anyone who does. Instead, my photographic memories live on hard drives, in clouds, in my email inbox, on Google and on some social networks. It’s unlikely that I’ll be 70 years old, digging into my current mac (which will be long dead and buried, and probably considered an ancient relic), trying to find photos of my youth.
All of the photos taken on my various smartphones (which I often remind myself to transfer onto my computer) will be long gone and buried. Is there going to be some 2070 version of iphoto that will carry all of my photos from the past few years until the day I die? Perhaps, but I don’t think so… Already I’ve had to move photos from different places in order to make sure that I keep them. They’re important to me.
In the past you’d take your photos, get them processed and put them in an album or in a box, ready to be retrieved as and when needed. There’s something special about coming across a long-forgotten album that takes you back to an earlier age and times that you’d forgotten, holding it in your hands and almost touching that memory again.
I love the digital era, but the same thing that makes it great – that it is digital – is the same thing that makes it not so great. Digital is here today, gone tomorrow. Look at MySpace. It was the hot thing. Now, who really thinks about it?
What happens when all of those social networks and digital services start shutting down, or are sold off and merge with others and change their links. Where do your photos go then?
I have been asking the same thing about my work, my writing. I have lost work online due to hackers. I have had pieces that I put time into moved to new areas of other publications’ sites, and buried somewhere. When I started writing, the aim was to create a paper trail of my life, some way by which future generations could read my work and (hopefully) learn something. Even if I store everything on my computer, I’m not going to be using the same computer forever am I?
The beauty of the writers who were before the digital age is that you go and find their archives, archives that – unless destroyed – remain in physical perpetuity. Not so with digital.
It’s a very interesting time, because the digital era offers so much. Many museums and cultural institutions are going online with their archives now and I believe that much older culture can be brought to a wider audience online. I have been able to find my grandfather’s journalism from the 60s in Google News’ digital archives. However, it is physical archives that are being taken online and digitized, meaning that if a site should one day totally crash and all content is gone forever, the originals still remain.
I believe that in the next few years we will see a return to physical formats. I think that people will realize that they want physical, tangible evidence of their lives, physical objects to touch and hold onto; objects with texture and depth, not just digital footprints which can be scrubbed out as easily as water washes over sand. After a relentless sprint into the future, it may be that some of us will want to return in some ways to the things we liked about the past such as physical photographs. This is really about the preservation of one’s own history and legacy.
In recent years I have noticed a growing number of polaroid photo booths in some shops, restaurants and clubs and I’m always keen to jump in. It’s great to see that polaroid once it has been produced.
We may return to creating physical products first, then moving onto digital, rather than the other way around. This is bearing in mind that there are actually young people growing up for whom a physical photograph is an alien concept – perhaps they will not feel the same way.
However, I’d certainly like to have physical photographs to show my grandchildren. Hmm…can anyone say Kodak?!