Jonas Altman

@sfagency

Why I Stopped Outsourcing My Memory

And Started Doing Something With My Photos

I take great pride in having a good memory. And if memory serves me right, my friends are often shocked at what I remember. While I might be pleased with the nitty-gritty of what I can recall, most of the time I’m ridiculed for giving so much brainpower to such frivolous stuff.

The choice would be easy for me if I were granted a superpower. I love basking in nostalgia and the thought of having a bottomless memory is heavenly. I know, I could employ the proven tricks in Moonwalking with Einstein — but I’m lazy. I choose to rely on my digital archive that sits pretty at nearly a quarter of a million photos. Unhealthy? Sure. Abnormal? You’d be surprised by the habits of the average happy snapper.

Like most, my point and shoot practice skyrocketed with the advent of digital photography. I’m classified as a mild enthusiast with a mere 150 shots per week. As a species, we snapped over 1.2 trillion photos in 2017. And the lion’s share of these images never make it to print. They stay trapped inside our apps, drives, social networks, and clouds.

An Obsession with Instagram-able Moments

At the turn of the millennium, I went to Coachella. The only cameras back then belonged to professional music photographers. When I recently returned to the festival, it was not the ubiquitous smartphone usage that was surprising but the endless battery charging stations. These awkward fixtures, made up of one big lego-like block, were kitted out with two dozen chest-high sockets. Perfectly-styled teenagers draped about refuelling for their next documentary-esque outing.

As it turns out, this fixation with instagram-able moments is not just an obsession. A recent study claims that snapping pictures actually helps us enjoy experiences more. And for folks like me who might be guilty of such indulgence, I seek comfort in the empirical evidence that taking photos also helps me remember.

But is merely taking the photo enough? Filmmaker Luis Bunuel put it best, “…Life without memory is no life at all…our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it we are nothing.” Our sexed-up Instagram-able narratives remain stuck in the App. They live in the past, not in the present. By giving a print to a friend, you extend beyond a passing ‘like.’ What you give, is a memory to be enjoyed today as well as tomorrow.

When Those Photos Vanish from The Cloud

When you take as many photos as I do, storage is an issue. My good friend, The Cloud, has thus become a trusted confidant. I put so much faith in him that for the past few years, I’ve placed the digital story of my life right in the palm of his hands. But in a momentary bout of amnesia, he dropped the ball. Or in geek-speak, he forgot to sync with my library and safeguard my snaps. I’m in disbelief, much like I have been previously with The Cloud’s close cousins.

Three months of photos were instantly gone. A first-world problem for sure but I was gobsmacked nonetheless. It reminded me of the time I was burgled before my buddy The Cloud was even born. My hard-drive, the treasure of my digital past was taken along with my laptop. I mourned. Weeks later, to my surprise, I found that I had hidden the hard-drive so well from any potential burglars — that I too was fooled. I began musing ‘If a hard-drive with my digital photos is taken, in whose possession do those memories live? And should I miraculously be reunited with this same hard-drive, do those memories return?’

On reflection, had I printed and shared these photos like I intended, my anxiety would have been greatly reduced. The anguish was not a result of lost memories so much as the failure of sharing them with friends and family.

It’s Hight Time To Do Something With Our Photos

The reality is that most us want to experience our photos more often. The problem is not that we lack the time, but that our photos are in a total mess. “My photos are in a state of utter chaos. I am haunted by this feeling,” cried one happy snapper I interviewed.

Oodles of companies are trying hard to get you to activate your photos. At the very least, they urge you to a print up a canvas, book, mug or even a pillow. The problem for me is: I’m lazy. I think of a future scenario where I might finally create space to organize, print, share, and enjoy all of my photos. My delusion is that each month, I only compound the problem by adding thousands of more images to the mix. That time of kicking back and reliving those memories only fades further into the distance.

If I’ve learned anything from my photo mayhem it is this: it’s high time I stop moaning and start doing something with my snaps. So this year, every month I am printing and framing one photo to give to someone. I’m starting today and encourage you to do the same. After all, isn’t it time we set our photos free?

Playa Azul on North Coast

Our digital libraries once had a hero in a snazzy service called Everpix. The list of benefits to help you organise your photos was exhaustive, my favourite of which was photo deduplication. While the startup alleviated the pain of organising and allowing users to spend more time enjoying — it never quite took. This got me thinking more and more that the problem lies with us and not the technology.

If I’ve learned anything from my photo mayhem it is this: it’s high time I stop moaning and start doing something with my snaps. So this year, every month I am printing and framing one photo to give to someone. I’m starting today and encourage you to do the same. After all, isn’t it time we set our photos free?

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