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In my parent's house are boxes of family photos stored in closets, cupboards, and desks. The pictures are loose, in albums, and some still in the sleeves they came back from the photomat in. From time to time when I still lived at home I'd pull the boxes out and sort through all the memories of my childhood, and from the years before I was born: photos of my parent's when they were dating, their childhoods, their parents and their childhoods. A visual family history. Some might call this clutter - but I prefer to think of these boxes as tangible memories.
For the past several months my mother has been calling me at least once a week to get my opinion on which digital camera she should buy. You see, up until a few days ago she never owned one. My mother has stuck to film more steadfastly than I have. But with children living in far off cities, and I'm sure other societal pressures (all her friends have one), she's been wanting to go digital - you know, for emailing and such. Which I totally understand - and it's something I do myself. (Let me just state now that I think digital can be a great tool to keep in touch, etc) Anyway, now that her hot pink Sony Cybershot has arrived I fear that the era of the handheld photo may have just come to an end in my parent's house. With glee my mother announced all the exciting aspects of her new camera on the phone the other day - the screen size, it's eye catching color, and the little travel pouch she bought for it. I've been told it's very cute - and it matches the camera. She's also delighted that it can fit in her purse.
Now, while I think digital and point and shoots have their place (Yes, I own one), even social media to a certain extent, this recent event has me wondering about all those boxes of pictures I used to love to riffle through on the living room floor. What's more, it causes me to remember the times I spent looking at pictures with people I loved. One frequent event that comes to mind was when my grandmother and I used to look through her photo albums from when she was young. Those experiences were more than just picture viewing - they were memories themselves. Us sitting at the kitchen table together, my grandmother going through each square photo taken by her Brownie, telling me the story behind each picture, each person, while we looked through the albums she so loving put together as a young woman. I'm not so sure looking at photos on a laptop or a cellphone could ever quite recreate that, no matter how well designed a website might be.
So, I've been pondering what will happen to our collective future memories - I mean, if let's say, people forget to back up their images and don't print them out? What's more - what will happen to the photo labs? I suppose that's a story for another time, though.
I know everyone intends to print out those digital photos, and sometimes people even buy that cute little photo printer to go with their new camera, but often times the digital files never leave the hard drive. Years may go by and before you know it.... poof! Family vacations, weddings, and countless birthday parties are all sucked up into the ether. Lost, never to be found again because either a computer died and the photos were never backed up, or formats and/or media changed and you never switched. Or, you just plain forgot where you put the files. Tragedy.
Perhaps I'm not as afraid of this probable future as I am saddened by it. Not that I don't appreciate an email of photos from my mother - and not that I don't send them myself - but, there is something to be said for a picture you can hold in your hand. And there's something to be said for picking up the pack of 24 glossy prints from the drug store photo counter. How many times have you stood right at the counter looking through the prints, or in your car in the parking lot - smiling and laughing or crying? It's a real experience - a tangible one. An act that's been played out over and over again - but these days less and less. There's anticipation and reward, and a few moments where you're unplugged from technology - simply enjoying what the photos hold. You quite literally have your life in your hands. And if you're lucky enough, you might even get to share those moments with someone you love.
All I have to say in closing is this: Mom, while I love the emails, please don't forget to make prints.