The memory on our hard drive versus the memory in our head

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

About 200 years ago, the first photograph was taken and a new human obsession was born. The fascination with capturing “the moment” has travelled through time and led us here to a digital world where Facebook contains over 240-billion photographs. So what is it like living on a planet where 350-billion photos are taken annually worldwide in addition to the over 3.5-trillion already in existence? My guess is that those poses, those beautiful views, and those first steps by little baby Susan will inevitably be lost beneath all the other mundane images out there.

Remember Kodak moments, when every photo taken was an investment for the future and a memory worth sharing? I do. When I was young, my family only brought out the analogue camera for special occasions such as birthday parties, vacations, or school performances. I wasn’t allowed to touch it until I was 10-years-old, because memories were precious and my mother would always fear overexposure. Film was pricey, developing it even more so—my parents knew certain things were worth the cost and others weren’t.

Hard drive spaces are cheap and getting cheaper. Soon we’ll be able to upload our lives onto a terabyte external hard drive, plug it into to a projector, and have all our memories play out during our funeral. Our loved ones can gather around crying and laughing about our tomfoolery and our bits of achievements. But what substance do those images really have for us during the course of our lives?

Sometimes I look at pictures of myself; it might be me during a night out with friends, or maybe a group photo with my family. Oftentimes, I come away with a vague memory, like waking up in the morning and trying to recollect a dream. There are just so many—how can I be certain that I’m even remembering correctly?

We have all become photojournalists, reporting on and documenting our own lives. But can it be that the more we capture to showcase, the more we are losing for ourselves? The more we rely on the memories of a machine, the more we inhibit the capacity of our own brains.

During a vacation to Kelowna this year, my mother insisted that I take as many pictures as possible—for the sake of my family. I was unenthused by the idea of being my mother’s personal cameraman. Instead of enjoying the scenery or the moment, she was too busy trying to capture “the moment.” There is still a slight social stigma for those who hurry about taking pictures in situations that don’t call for it, but the taboo is quickly fading. The moments are becoming less and less valued, because apparently they’re everywhere now. The food we eat, a ray of sun through the trees, and of course little Susan’s first steps are now all worth the same 8.4 megapixels, but how do they really measure in our memories?

All the photography apps on our smartphones are making it harder and harder to keep track of which images we want to frame and which are disposable. Find time, sit down, go through all the pictures in your life, and ask yourself, “Do I remember this?” Then separate the images into two piles: the yes and the no. See which one you have more of, because certain things shouldn’t be automatic.