While poking around the dank storage area of our basement back home, I found a nearly 15 year-old tower computer lying ignominiously on its side on one of the shelves. It had been sitting there since 2010 and had scarcely been used since around 2008. When I later opened it up to clean it out, there was thick dust covering all top surfaces and a good amount of the cables. It was a miracle that when I first tried to power it on, it took only a little coaxing.
While cleaning out lots of old files to free up some hard drive space, I came across what must have been hundreds of image files stored across a few dozen folders. This computer had been my brother's during college, and went back into general family use during the mid-to-late 2000s. So there's a good range of who and what is pictured. My brother's social circle at college, family vacations, holidays, and so on and so forth. Not to mention a good deal of pictures of old photographs that had been digitally scanned.
Nothing mind-blowing, but isn't that normal for family pictures? And it's not as though any single picture would've been a major loss, but family pictures aren't trying to make the individual shot excellent, they're trying to record what our experiences were.
Needless to say that if I hadn't taken a curiosity in restoring and preserving this dusty old thing, it and those hundreds of pictures would've gone straight into the landfill. I backed up the pictures onto a flash drive just in case the hard drive craps out, and it struck me that we had to buy a new drive for this purpose. There wasn't a master drive that we had been loading digital images onto all along.
Perhaps other families are more OCD than ours (that would not be too hard), but I suspect that most people are not moving their old picture archives from one main "device" to another. And given how quick the treadmill of planned obsolescence is running, they're not going to have much time to get to know the pictures that are confined to a particular device before cycling on to the next one.
Photographs are the exact opposite. In our cedar closet, we still have album after album full of film prints, some of them going back to the early 20th century. Photo albums were never housed in a larger piece of technology, let alone one that was subject to such rapid turnover. So it hasn't been hard to keep those archives separate from all the other stuff that comes in goes in a household.
And although I've written about how bland, forgettable, and crummy digital pictures look compared to film, their quick sentence to oblivion seems to have more to do with digital storage media rather than digital image capturing. If you took pictures with a digital camera but printed them up, they probably wound up in a photo album with the others. Whereas if you took pictures with a film camera but told the photo lab to upload scanned image files onto a flash drive instead of making prints, you'll lose them before 10 years is up.
It may seem odd that digital images are vanishing so easily — although less tangible than photographs, they are still housed on a physical machine. But those machines are getting more or less thrown away every several years these days, and even if they're donated, they have their hard drives automatically wiped clean before passing them along.
Forgettable images on disposable machines — how would this world ever go on without progress?