Fifteen years ago, I had to remember to take a camera if I wanted to take a photo. I may have remembered to take it along to special occasions or when we went on holidays. I chose my subjects carefully and tried to take the perfect photo in one shot. Before digital cameras, the roll of Kodak film often sat in the fridge for a year or two before I remembered to have it developed. The result was either joy at remembering a forgotten moment or the disappointment of a badly executed composition. Usually, it was the latter.
Now that we all have a camera in our pockets, it is easier than ever to take bad photos. The only difference is that we don’t have to print them. We now store these along with the thousands of other photos on our phones, computers and of course the cloud. We keep it all because we can. We have photos of wi-fi passwords, breakfasts we have consumed months ago, screen shots of travel arrangements and of course thousands of photos of pets and the occasional human.
By the time we have several thousand photos, culling becomes a chore best avoided. There’s always something more important on the to do list. Who wants to spend hours making one decision after another? Generally, this task is only attempted when we are running out of memory on our devices. Even then, people will go to great lengths to avoid pressing the delete button. The number of photos slowing down a device is often the excuse for buying a new phone or iPad with bigger memory and better camera to continue our bad habits.
I have recently updated my computer and decided it was a good time to do some digital culling. I deleted thousands of files and even made a start on the photos. My worst offenders were images of work-related PowerPoint presentations that reminded me of my good intentions to revisit them. Of course, I haven’t looked at them. Not once. This was followed by random photos of cute dogs, hundreds of photos of my daughter at graduation, catching each expression milliseconds apart. I do it because it is easy; just a slight push on the glass screen and I have a memory that is less likely to fail than the memory stored in my mind. At the same time, I realise it is another version of mindless consumerism. I can now outsource remembering to my phone.
My friend Lizzie once gave me some advice when I felt overwhelmed with my (lack of) filing. The piles of paper were screaming at me every time I entered the room. I felt shame and a good measure of embarrassment whenever I glanced across at the papers. She suggested spending no more than 15 minutes on the task each afternoon. It worked. Slowly the pile began to recede and as I acquired stamina, I could face twenty minutes or even half an hour to get it done. The problem I have always faced is all or nothing thinking. Either I sort through the lot, or it isn’t worth starting. Yet the reality is that deleting 5 photos is better than deleting none.
Currently, I still carry 5 838 photos and 132 videos in my pocket. What about you?