People Without a History? February 8, 2013
My husband gets American Cinematographer, a magazine for the movie and television industry. I love reading it because I get to see how my favorite movies are made. Recently, an editorial in the magazine got me thinking. The first paragraph is what got my attention.
"As you read this, I know that you are probably one of many who will become People Without a History. Why? Because almost everything you write and every photo you will save -things that have traditionally informed historians about previous generations- exist only in the digital domain,or hard drives or SSD devices. The half life of a mechanical hard drive is about 5 years. That means the magnetic particles on the surface of their strength in five years, and that makes your magnetically stored data vulnerable to corruption.
There is also the question of digital media's obsolescence. What technology will your grandchildren use to access your letters and photos? In 50 year a LaCie drive will probably be an unfamiliar object."
Stephen Lighthill, ASC President
The writer went on to talk about what was happening to the movie industry but I was struck by the idea that so much of our lives sits on digital media. The question is..will we be able to retrieve it in 5 to 10...even 30 years? I would imagine most of you keep your digital images on your computer or even the card in the camera. Some of the more organized of you may back up the photos on DVD's or hard drives. What happens if the DVD's or the hard drives degrade or what if there is no way to retrieve them off those devices. Remember floppy discs?
When it comes to my personal family photos I am probably like most people. Many of my images sit on my computer, I make a few prints here and there, and once in a while copy them off on a DVD. Although my professional images sit on online sites..my personal stuff sits on two computers. Unlike pre digital times or my parents generation, there aren't many photo albums hanging around....and photos from recent trips or adventures hardly ever see the light of day. With few exceptions most of the family photos around my house were before I went completely digital. Will the last ten years of my families' life be lost to future generations?
As a child I loved looking through the photo albums my Mother had so painstakingly put together. As the youngest of three, the albums were my window into the world that happened before I was born and even after. After my parents passed, the family photos from that time are some of my most cherished possessions. I know I can hand those down to my family....but the hard drives? The DVD's? Is it time for me to take my favorite family photos and have them printed up in the album books that so many labs do now? Do I make more prints? Put the images on a cloud program?
Does it matter that my family's visual history or yours may be difficult to retrieve in the future? May even be irretrievable. As someone who makes her living creating a visual history for people I would like to think it does. What do you think?
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