Last month I wrote about the Facebook Timeline, and I started thinking about how we preserve our own history. My wife and I come from two different schools of thought on this subject. My point of view is that technology is the best way to maximize the enjoyment and preservation of our cherished photographs, letters and other captured memories, whereas her point of view is stupid.
Oops! No! What I mean is, my wife believes that technological solutions are complicated, inaccessible and most of all, at risk for complete loss of the tangible, emotionally connected paper.
“Preserve your memories … they’re all that’s left you.”
That was my high school yearbook quote, so you can tell I’ve been pondering this subject for a long time. Well, not that long. It’s from a 1968 Simon & Garfunkel song, but I graduated in 1989.
I’m not sure what Paul Simon’s intent was, but the lyrics had two meanings to me: your memories are everything in life that has left you; but they are also all you have left of the past. I was already nostalgic when I chose the quote, longing for the “good old days” of elementary school, but it means more with each year older and layer thicker than that yearbook picture. My wife and I both agree with Mr. Simon, but we disagree with each other on the preservation strategy.
“Every year’s a souvenir that slowly fades away.”
We both have a smattering of childhood photos. They’re almost all in color, but even though they’re from the 1970s (like the Billy Joel quote above), some are so yellowed that you’d expect to see WANTED written below them. I use this to argue to my wife about the fragility of paper. If these pictures can fade so much in a few decades, they might rot completely before we do. But she likes to flip through the old albums, hearing the crack of the binding, pulling open the clear, once-adhesive pages to adjust photos when necessary, and reading the hand-cut speech balloons her mother sometimes glued on. If you stare long enough, she says, you can almost hear the voices. I’ll admit the structure of a classic photograph is part of the experience. There’s a picture of me with Spider-Man that is just as memorable for the sturdy Polaroid border and autographed folio as much as me looking as lithe as Peter Parker.
But the Polaroid is pulling apart from the casing, and if I hadn’t scanned it, it would be lost forever. Plus, since every click of the shutter cost money in those days, the volume of pictures of us is a drop in the developing-chemical ocean compared to the digital digest we have collected on our own children. I’m convinced the children of today will be perceived as more attractive than previous generations based on their option to delete and retake any shot they would rather send to the cutting room floor. Does anybody under 20 even know what “cutting room floor” means?
“All I’ve got is a photograph … but it’s not enough.”
Yeah, I slipped Def Leppard into a sentimental article. What can I say? I’m an 80s child and I have a soft spot for Union Jack wifebeaters.
The photos themselves are nice, but I want more quantity, more flexibility and less storage space. I have more than 30,000 photos, letters, ticket stubs, school papers and kids’ art added to iPhoto, and they all fit on this laptop. I haven’t thrown my back out carrying the laptop (yet).
I can organize the pictures a million different ways, manipulate them in Photoshop, watch them in instant slideshows, and even use iPhoto’s facial recognition feature. The technology is mind-blowing, even if it does occasionally mistake me for President Obama or a birthday party balloon.
“Time … the past has come and gone … now only lasts for one second”
That’s true, Hootie & The Blowfish – unless you pause the DVD. Ask my wife to name her favorite gifts of all time and she will list her mix CDs with the home-burned picture labels, the photo tower with the mile-long Photoshop collage, or the movies I’ve set to music through the wonder of digital video editing software. What more could she want?
OK, I’ll come clean. She could want me to delete the pictures I carelessly took of the sidewalk but still uploaded to the computer.
She could want me to crop and edit our best pictures, print them out and put them on the refrigerator for her enjoyment. She could want a volunteer staff of 50 to spend the next decade labeling, key-wording and grouping the electronic photos so that she could actually find what she wants on a particular day. She could want an infallible backup system, or at least an external hard drive that doesn’t fail every two years and cost us hundreds of dollars to replace, so we don’t have to say goodbye to every single photo forever.
“I found the photo of the friend that I was looking for … it’s hard to say it (time to say it) … goodbye … goodbye.”
So what’s better? Having 300 flammable pictures of your entire life, each with its own personal story, or 30,000 digital files you can convert into a lovely, finished multimedia presentation, but which are one lightning strike away from annihilation?
It becomes a question of how much you can carry. I raved about how many photos my computer stores, but I still have hundreds of pounds of pictures I haven’t digitized, and hundreds more I’ve already scanned but can’t throw away. Do you know what’s worse than losing a hard drive containing all of your family photos? Telling your wife you lost a hard drive containing all of your family photos. So I keep the originals. I wish I were a video game character or a superhero with unlimited inventory space. Here, Batman, put these bins of photo albums in your belt next to your grappling hook and 48 Batarangs.
“Preserve your memories … they’re all that’s left you.”
Wait, did I already use that quote? I’m 40 and I’m getting forgetful. Actually, I’m repeating it on purpose because I realize now that there is even more to those words. Maybe my wife and I are both wrong. The best place to preserve your memories is inside your head, where they grow sweeter with age. But one day, when we’re in our twilight years – as opposed to the Twilight years – age may cause the memories in our heads to fade like a crumbling ticket stub or a hinky hard drive.
I’ll leave you with one more picture: me, after 40 more years, sitting on the front porch on a lazy afternoon, hopefully with my arm around the woman I teased in this article, thumbing our arthritic thumbs through a dilapidated scrapbook and coming across a withered copy of this newspaper article, getting ancient ink on our ancient fingers. And I’ll tell her she was right. There’s a reason it’s called a feeling. If you’re going to hold onto your memories, you should HOLD onto your memories. Nobody ever smeared the ink of an old love letter by weeping onto a laptop screen.
Psst…but just in case I’M right, can somebody please scan this?
 Conversely, every photo of my Jamaican wife and me together is black and white. You know you were thinking it. Racist.