We take pictures with our digital cameras and smartphones in prodigious quantity. Today’s teens may have little conception of how technical, time-consuming, and expensive it once was to create a single snapshot. Now, courtesy of ultra-portable, user-friendly cameras and massive amounts of digital memory, we don’t think twice about logging dozens, even hundreds, of photos a day–all of them stored in the ether of cyberspace.
There’s a lot of good about this modern-day ease and versatility when it comes to picture taking: Photography’s more accessible than ever, for one thing, and candid moments are more readily captured as they happen. But there also come risks–not least the blasé attitude many of us cultivate about long-term picture storage.
A Vulnerable Online Photo Library:
Technology changes rapidly these days, as starkly demonstrated by the speed with which operating systems (and the files they traffic in) age and obsolesce. The bits composing images you presume are preserved for the ages may vaporize in a system crash, or simply become unreadable as the digital platform in which they’re coded goes extinct.
No less an authority figure than Google’s vice president, Vint Cerf, recently warned about the vulnerability of digital photos and other information. Speaking in early 2015 at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Cerf raised the spectre of a new “Dark Age” in which the loss or inaccessibility of digital data could rob future generations of an adequate chronicle of our era. “If there are pictures that you really, really care about,” Cerf said, “creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.”
Printing out digital pictures to protect them? It almost seems counter intuitive, given it’s usually the reverse idea–digitizing old hard-copy photos for preservation purposes–which we hear about. But Cerf does have a point: A truly precious, truly invaluable picture–of a loved one, of a particular time or place, of anything that has a deep and powerful resonance for you–shouldn’t be solely entrusted to the volatile annals of cyberspace. Just as you might back up such a picture in multiple places–on a few hard drives, in the Cloud, on CDs–you should also print out a physical copy for safekeeping.
In a 2013 New York Times Q&A entitled, “Tips on Archiving Family History,” archivist Bertram Lyons of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center underscored this point when he wrote, “I do not recommend online storage as the only backup or the only version [of digital pictures], but I think it can be useful as part of an overall storage strategy.”
So, while you’re thinking of it–putting something off’s a good way to never do it, for one thing, and it’s gut-wrenching to suddenly remember a long-ago, long-forgotten picture that’s simply disappeared into the dust of time–pull up that likeness of Grandpa, that postcard-worthy capture of the Eiffel Tower, that once-in-a-lifetime shot of Mick Jagger in mid-howl, and print it out!
Preserving Those Irreplaceable Snapshots
Use high-quality, photo-friendly paper to do so; a cheap printout isn’t durable enough. Make sure your printer’s armed with fully stocked cartridges, which you can purchase from outlets such as the Stinky Ink Shop. If you don’t own your own printer, head to a store that offers printing services; some libraries may have equipment of the needed caliber, as well.
Make sure you store your hard-copy photos in a secure place. If they’re especially important to you, you might consider keeping them together with other vital documents where they’re easily rescued in case of fire or other emergencies.
Digital photo storage is all well and good, but if you really want to cover your bases you’ll consider printing out some backups. A side benefit? The joy of leafing through a real, honest-to-goodness, reach-out-and-touch photo album–just like the old days!
John Sollars started his company in 2002 and has watched the printing industry evolve over time. With a passion for writing and for helping people, he likes to share what he has learned over the years. Look for his illuminating posts on many websites and blogs.