August 2, 2013

My [Fleeting] Digital Life

Tell me if you can relate to this...

The other day my dad and I were going through boxes of old photos. He actually lost a fair amount of family memorabilia in Hurricane Sandy -- but there was still plenty to go through. Many photos I've never seen, including this one of my grandfather, whom I have no memory of (he died when I was 3 years old). 

There were stories shared over a long afternoon -- stories I'd never heard before. The photos and the stories they told were especially meaningful because they weren't MY past experiences, they were those of previous generations. In other words, they weren't sentimental to me because they reminded me of past experiences that I had in my own life. They were precious to me because they allowed me to experience something that was a part of my past -- that I had never experienced before. It provided a glimpse of what preceded me. Perhaps this feeling is also amplified by the fact that photos weren't taken as often in previous generations, so finding a good one that captured the moment is something to appreciate and cherish.

Today, we snap photos without a second thought. Those photos are stored on phones, memory cards, hard drives, and the like. Looking ahead 40 years from now, how will I be able to share images and stories from my generation with my own children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren? I have movies and slideshows that I've painfully edited which are burned into a slim silver disc called a DVD, that is currently collecting dust on a shelf because alas, I have no computers with DVD drives anymore, nor does my AppleTV-equipped TiVo-enabled flatscreen TV.

I'm sure I'm not the first one to lose sleep over losing family photos Yes, I've spent many weekends backing up photos to the numerous online options, which isn't a solution because who knows what company will be around, and who knows if there will be an internet in 40 years? I could print photo books, and perhaps I should spend more time with that as well.

But what REALLY got me thinking about this wasn't the photos. 

Like most of you, I am what the world society has dubbed a creative. I create things. Just because I've chosen to create art though, doesn't make anyone else less creative. We are ALL creative. We just create different things. When you create things that are physical, you can revisit them over time. You can study them. And more importantly, OTHERS can view it, experience it, and learn from it. The simple idea of studying something like art history -- allows you to learn from a master by seeing their artwork. It is physical. It exists. It is enduring. In truth, that's what fascinates me about things like the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

Today, just about EVERYTHING we create is digital. We don't keep diaries, rather we post our feelings to blogs, Twitter, or Facebook. We capture photos and videos on our smartphones. We create art on tablets or computers. Hardware, software, and file formats change faster than ever before. If you're like me, you still have SyQuest cartridges filled with QuarkXPress files and Zip disks with Flash animations (who snicker at their new DVD neighbors that have recently joined them on the same shelf).

It seems like what we create is for NOW. What we create is fleeting. What we create is here today, yet gone tomorrow. I think of all the great things I've designed... all the things I've written... all that I've created. And most of them are digital. And they are fleeting. And I wonder how those things will be passed on to future generations. Not just to my own children, but to those who dream of creating in the future and who can learn from my own experiences. How will the next few generations study the work that our own generation has created? Where will they find it? 

Other may have said that print is dead, but to me, print has the power to take that which is [long] dead, and bring it to life -- for me, and for others. I've come to accept that I must take my personal zeroes and ones and convert them to carbon and ink. 

Wish me luck.

ADDENDUM: My buddy Jim Heid found this link from the Library of Congress, which is worth looking at.


lilyreed said...

This is lovely!

And true. Recently, I was blue and reached for a photo album because I knew it would provide 'something.' Even if bittersweet, it would *transport* me.

I was most astonished by finding my Baba in the background of a photo that I'd never noticed. Boy, do I wish she were here. In a way, it reminded me that she still *is* standing beside me.

At my job, we still have 2 gigantic, industrial large format cameras -- they kind you can put a painting to photograph. Nobody wants them! I know there's a hobbyist out there who must.

Terri Stone said...

Thanks for the thoughtful read, Mordy.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I feel quite overwhelmed by the sheer number of digital photos I have, and the task of sorting them seems such a big job that I am always put it off for another day. But I feel they will get lost if I don't. I have started at least this years in a printable book for the family Thanks for the inspiration!

Ryan Dumas said...

Thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience during my late grandfather's wake. Displayed on a table was a framed picture of my grandfather (then in his teens) in mid-flight after launching off of a ski jump. During the 25 years I knew him he never mentioned that he was an avid ski jumper in his younger days. Of course, there's no photos of him landing!