Photos really are the best way to keep our memories intact. Few of us have perfect recall- the brain being the mysterious organ it is, and often we find ourselves struggling to remember occasions and experiences that by all means should be simple to recollect. As writer Eudora Welty once said, “A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.”
It’s this impression that makes the prospect of losing our photographs so terrifying. We’ve all been there before: we open a folder or a digital camera roll expecting to be greeted by a long grid of thumbnails, and… nothing. Blank space. Confusion gives way to sheer panic as we page helplessly through files and folders hoping to catch a glimpse of something familiar.
Sometimes losing our photographs means we’ve lost the record of a great night, or a beautiful vacation. Sometimes the toll can be far worse. Take this story of a woman who lost the entire record of her 20s- thousands of photographs that included her time with her late husband. While she ultimately found a way to grapple with the loss positively, not all of us are so inclined to let go.
These kinds of losses are far from rare these days. The convenience of the digital age would have many of us believe that our data is safe, being easily copied and mostly free from physical dangers like fire or flooding, but this can lull us into a false sense of security. Digital photos are as easily deleted as they are stored, and the ever-increasing amount of data we store and move casually makes it easy for them to vanish in transit, as they did for Amy. And there’s a long-term fear for our digitally stored pictures. Google VP Vint Cerf points out that there’s no real way to guarantee the survival of this stored data, meaning future generations could look back on our time and see it as a virtual black hole.
So what are some of the ways we can ensure our memories stay with us?
Backups, backups, backups. Of course, it’s a bit of a slog trying to find new places to store our photos, especially if you’re the kind of person who takes them regularly. But having a failsafe can be the difference between an irreversible loss and a few minutes of redownloading. The most important thing about a truly perfect backup is that it’s physically separate- and ideally, distant- from the originals. The best solution for this is cloud storage. Using a service like Dropbox or Amazon Cloud Storage can keep your pictures safe even in the case of catastrophic data loss. Those of us with iPhones can certainly use Photostream to keep our pictures stored elsewhere, but having a dedicated backup can still be a good idea. Another thing to consider is the importance of sorting photos- PhotoTime, for example, can help you keep all your favorite photographs organized. You may find it too difficult to save all of your photos, but if you know which are your favorites, it can be a lot easier to keep the ones that really matter safe.
Print them out! A novel idea for sure- who could imagine having a physical copy of a picture? As crazy as it sounds, keeping a stack of printed photos in storage can be a great way to give them a chance to survive even in the case of multiple digital failures. It’s pretty unlikely that, say, your computer will crash at the same time your Dropbox account mysteriously vanishes, but this kind of thinking might save your precious memories in the long term. In fifteen years, your old laptop may be a block of scrap alongside your old phone, and your choice of digital storage may be equally outdated. But open up that box in your attic and all of a sudden your memories are right there. There’s something to be said for having tangible copies of our memories. It can’t hurt, right?
Sharing with friends? A human kind of backup! If you, your friends and your family like taking photos together, consider sharing them as a group. Remember when your grandmother would pull out the old photo albums? As excruciatingly embarrassing as those memories may be, they highlight something important. Those photos are shared- other copies probably existing in other photo albums, and this redundancy may be why that picture of you as a baby in a bib might outlive your gorgeous shots of your recent beach vacation. If there are photos you really cherish, share them- and share them often. It may seem unnecessary now, but later, you might just be kicking yourself otherwise.