The Downfall of Digital

A century ago, families would take pictures, have them developed, and store them carefully in albums that would be lovingly passed from one generation to the next. Photo albums then were rather like the family bible; it was an official record of family history frequently shared and consulted by friends and family alike. The same kink in little Jimmy’s nose could be seen in great great uncle Albert’s, and that continuity was both comforting and important.

Well, times have changed. Or have they? We’re still taking family pictures, and family genealogy is bigger than ever. What does seem to have changed, though, is our ability to put together the family album. And the advent of the digital camera has to bear some of the blame.

Memories don’t belong on memory cards. Let’s be honest. How many of us are sitting with pictures still on memory cards? They’re not doing anybody any good there! Whether it’s a matter of time or difficulty doesn’t really matter. Pictures left in the camera aren’t pictures at all. Move them to the computer, and don’t stop there.

To print or not to print: that is the question
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Wrong. A picture is only worth a thousand words if it can be viewed and appreciated, which makes pictures stored on hard drives and/or CDs pretty much meaningless. Sure, they can be shown on screen, but have you ever tried to pass around a monitor? It can’t be done. Even moving a laptop from person to person is awkward, and looking at pictures in a bunch over someone’s shoulder isn’t very satisfying. No, pictures are meant for albums … or scrapbooks … or even frames on walls or tables. But they’re definitely not meant for computers and CDs – not if you want them to last.

Using CDs for photo storage
CDs are made of plastic with a reflective coating. That means they’re not immune to damage. Scratches, dust and fingerprints on the reflective side can make some data unreadable. CDs can be dropped, broken, and stepped on. They won’t survive fires, being left on a car seat in the summer, or deposited in the trunk in the middle of winter. Humidity can also adversely affect them. And even in the best of circumstances, CDs won’t necessarily last forever. Life span estimates are all over the board. Recordable CDs are estimated to last from 30 to 200 years. Rewriteable CDs (the kind you can erase and re-use) are estimated to last 30 years. Because CD technology is only about twenty years old, these estimates are based on accelerated aging tests, which mean they could be right, or they could be wrong.

Photo storage on hard drives is iffy, too
There are all kinds of things that can happen there, too. How about disk errors, power surges, or accidentally deleting the wrong folder? These are the kinds of things that can wipe out years of irreplaceable photos. Of course you can back up your hard drive with CDs (see above) or online services, but how many of us do that?

No, it’s much better to print out the photos and put them in albums, scrapbooks and frames. Then you can see them, share them, and enjoy them for years to come. Just like families used to do.