Vacationing as a child was a wild time. Even if I’d been to a certain vacation spot multiple times, the fun never seemed to end. There was always something new because my tiny mind simply hadn’t experienced that much.
However, as a prepubescent child, there was always one thing that stayed the same from trip to trip: my dad’s video recorder and my mom’s camera.
Whether they were urging their children to do something cool for the camera or surreptitiously spying on us from a distance, my parents were capturing most of my siblings and I’s childhood on film.
The earliest memory of my life I can recall is in fact captured on film.
Three-year-old me was wandering around the outskirts of a massive beachside fountain that my older siblings were playing in. Scared of the rushing water, I toddled around afraid, unable to cast my fears away and enter the fray.
Proof of that memory is forever instilled in that film.
This notion of preservation is a key reason why we record videos and take pictures in the first place. There are sentiments buried in those memories that when awakened often bring us a sense of joy and nostalgia.
Memories of locations you visited, people you once knew or activities that have since eluded your present-day thoughts are all saved, and they are so precious to us that we don’t want to let them go.
Although rarely reflected on until they’re brought out, these time capsules of film and photography provide us with moments of reflection that are unique in and of themselves.
I have fond memories of opening a chest in our family’s living room and flipping through the old photo albums of my siblings and I as tiny humans.
Furthermore, a year or two ago my dad started cataloging his old video recorder film, and in order to do so, he had to watch the footage.
He’d call the whole family into the living room to reminisce on memories of our old house, vacations from long ago or birthdays of old. Film that my siblings and I had never seen before was shared, and it provided us with some immaculate moments.
In one of the funniest videos I’ve seen, my oldest brother, with his plump pumpkin-shaped baby head, was placed on a mat only for the largest and ugliest stuffed bunny I’d ever seen to get thrown into frame. It was a hilarious moment.
These gatherings of the family to watch videos from the past were great. Catching glimpses of how we acted as children, sibling dynamics or just the pure chaos of a boy-dominated household was awesome.
Inside jokes in my family originated from us going back and watching those films, but unfortunately, the tapes eventually ran out.
Although I was able to reflect on my childhood, my younger siblings were unable to do so to the same extent, especially the youngest.
Why? Because everything went digital.
My sister, the runt of the litter, was the lone child to be born when iPhones were an adequate substitute for cameras. She was nowhere to be found in the physical film.
As a result, pictures of her derpy baby face dominate my mom’s camera roll, dating back to the early 2010s when my mom would doll her up – she’s the only girl in the family – and have miniature photoshoots.
Were those countless photos ever whittled down until the best and most presentable ones were left? No, because storage got cheap, and the cloud allowed our family to just store everything there.
Suddenly there was no need to look through the camera roll and pick out what you wanted to keep because it could all be kept. You upload it to the cloud, and you’re all good.
Now, there was no reason for my dad to catalog anything, to invite the family down and to reminisce about our past. These digital videos and photos are no longer taking up space in a cabinet; they’re stored in a place invisible to us.
Why spend time making photo albums if we don’t need to develop any film? Why pull up old video footage and bring everyone together if you don’t have to?
The incentive structures for reflecting on old memories are disappearing. Our ease of access to these memories makes the effort spent trying to go through them seem unfulfilling and not worth our time.
We never have a sense of immediacy when something is permanent and inconspicuous. We ignore it and let it be.
I fear that as generations cycle through no one will spend time accessing and looking through the deceased’s iCloud accounts. It will simply exist without anyone to lay eyes on the precious moments of yore.
I am optimistic though.
Apple’s implementation of “Memories” via the Photos app has been a godsend in reawakening that initiative to share and bring families together.
Although I fear what cloud storage may do to many people’s childhood memories, I am hopeful that technology can be a way to ignite that curious spark once again so that we never forget where we once came from and the love that persists.
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