The family photos are scattered in clusters and packs all around the bedroom: They sit on the radiator, the desk, the three dressers — littered across any available flat surface. I got into this habit back in the days when I used to move between two houses every year (renting out what was my winter one to summer people), and needed to be able to scoop up all my pictures quickly, and pack them. Trouble is, they are getting quite out-of-date, and I haven’t figured out how to get prints of newer ones, particularly of the grandchildren.
It goes without saying that I came of age before pictures were taken with digital devices, instead of bonafide cameras . . . before there were social-media sites on which to post them . . . before all of it.
Actually, I must say here, I embraced word-processing in its very earliest days, and was among the first editors out here to edit on the computer. (I remember clearly that my Southampton colleague, whose newspaper operation was, in general, light years ahead of ours, insisted that copy-editing was better done with paper and pencil.) Now, however, communications technology is moving ahead more and more rapidly, and I fear I am being left behind.
Naturally, I used to take photos with a camera, which I carried everywhere; I even knew how to get these photos off the camera on onto the computer, back in the 1990s and 2000s. Like most everyone, I don’t use a camera much anymore, which means I hardly take photos these days.
I own a cellphone, yes, and it does have a rudimentary camera, but it doesn’t seem worth bothering with because of the poor quality. Everyone in the family seems to always be snapping away on snazzy devices — tablets, iPhones, I’m not sure what else — and e-mailing these images back and forth or, most frequently, posting them on Facebook. But, unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to harvest them and get prints.
I’ve got a Facebook page, too, mind you. But I am being a bit slow learning how to finesse it. Sometimes I get e-mail notifications about photographs that friends have posted, but I don’t know why they come from some people and not others. I am also, I admit, reluctant to visit my Facebook page at all, because it accumulates everything everyone I know has ever posted, and I don’t know how to pare it all down; it would take hours to scroll through all the vacation photos, petition links, silly cat videos, outraged political rants, and so on. (Maybe I need to hire a teenager to sort me out?)
Now things have gotten more complicated.
Someone has set me up with a Twitter account. (If Pope Francis, @Pontifex, can work one, I guess I can, too.) I occasionally receive word of tweets, and I felt puffed up with accomplishment when I clicked to follow something recently. Next thing you know, however — as I learned at a family party last weekend — it turns out that the young set has migrated to Instagram, which apparently does everything the earlier sites do, and more quickly. At least that’s what I think I learned.
So we come to my question: What will happen to family archives?
Being a newspaper family, we have always documented everything, from baby steps on the beach to wine-saturated picnics in the Walking Dunes. We, quite seriously, have more than one old wooden filing cabinet filled with these prints. And now? Will these memories be forever consigned to cyberspace, instead of paper and ink? Left hovering without frames? How will future generations retrieve them?
Children, listen: We old folks used to be told that we should label all our photos on the back, so that those coming after us would know who their forebears were and what they looked like. Which bald uncle once had a cowlick, how flat the landscape was from Pantigo Road to the ocean. But who will know how to find, let alone identify, everything posted on the Internet now?
Perhaps another Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg will figure out how to create retrievable albums in space — to source and collect them for posterity — and make millions.