Sometimes…I worry that most people think we are just trying to sell them something when we talk about why it is so important to print photographs, rather than just store them digitally. The crazy looks some people give us is what gives it away. When you hear things from people like Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist of Google, say things like he fears our century will be a “digital dark age” in history for our descendants, it grabs my attention.
“We have various formats for digital photographs and movies and those formats need software to correctly render those objects. Sometimes the standards we use to produce those objects fade away and are replaced by other alternatives and then software that is supposed to render images can’t render older formats, so the images are no longer visible.
This is starting to happen to people who are saving a lot of their digital photographs because they are just files of bits. The file system doesn’t know how to interpret them, you need software to do that. Now you’ve lost the photograph in effect.
If there are pictures that you really really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.”
So you might say I buy into Vint Cerf’s concept of “Digital Vellum”, but every DIY archivist out there can admit, that despite limiting the probability of data loss, the larger problem for our generation now is curating the massive amounts of digital garbage we are storing thinking it may be valuable to someone (or ourselves at least) in the future. “Individuals rarely view their own stuff as requiring curation: curation is for objects in museums.” Wrote Catherine C. Marshall, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Corporation, in her article titled “Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving”. “Most people prefer to treat their personal artifacts casually; they are aware that some of the things they save will be valuable to them or their families in the future, but they don't have the time or the patience to invest the upstream effort, nor do they have the prescience to know which things they will eventually care about”.
So that wedding album your photographer won't shut up about, is not just a physical photo archive with a long shelf life, it is a full curating service for one of life's most important milestones. All of us have tons of digital photographs and we are backing them up so someday we can hand our kids a monster capacity of the future usb or external hard drive of some sort. So is a photo album really a family’s first heirloom? As cool as it sounds to be handed a hard drive with all of your parent’s photos for the past however many decades, ponder this: If you aren’t willing to curate the photographs of your own fond memories, will your children?