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Friday, August 01, 2014
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Published: Monday, 1/13/2014

COMMENTARY

Picture this: Going digital ruins the romance of photography

BY THOMAS WALTON
BLADE COLUMNIST
Walton Walton
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

More than 300 photos sit out of sight and out of mind in my smart phone, which isn’t very smart of me at all. Some of them have been there so long, I forget when and where I took them. A few include total strangers, people I encountered somewhere and for whatever reason felt compelled to photograph.

For all I know, they might include you. I’d print one of them here and perhaps clear up the mystery, but you’d probably sue me for invasion of privacy, and I wouldn’t blame you.

What I do blame is this whole digital and social media world we live in. Facebook is in my face, and Myspace is in my space. My phone, I’m told, is smarter than the computers that guided the Apollo astronauts to the moon, and I don’t doubt it.

That also makes it infinitely smarter than I am. I swear it makes a noise that sounds a lot like a snicker every time I try to download an email or post a message.

But perhaps it is the camera within the phone that underscores just how much my life has changed since I went “social.”

I have always considered myself an amateur photographer, a hobbyist with no particular skill, but with enthusiasm for the challenge of composing a good shot.

It was exciting to shoot a roll of film, take it to the store for developing, and return some time later to pick up my prints. Every pack of pictures would yield some keepers, just as every pack would yield some stinkers — somebody’s eyes were closed, a friend had a previously unnoticed flagpole sticking out of his head, or I jiggled the camera and blurred the shot.

That’s how I learned. It’s how I tried to improve. The best fringe benefit of all: the pictures went into a shoebox for future reference. So now, any time I want, I can pull the 1986 shoebox out of the closet and look at the pictures I took as a proud dad at my daughter’s high school track meet in California.

Or I can take the 1980 box off the shelf and relive my son’s graduation from preschool. He was so cute in that cap and gown.

Reluctantly, I made the switch from film to digital, and discovered the joy of instant gratification and the immediate rejection of a mistake. But the downside quickly became evident: The shoeboxes stopped when digital started.

I now have thousands of digital pictures stored in my computer or cell phone, but no actual photos. I’ve backed them all up, and some of them are even up there in the sky, floating around in something called “the cloud.”

If the good Lord is looking after my pictures, fine. But if it’s an alien technician in a parallel universe, I’m going to be a little upset.

A friend confided that she finally went to a self-serve kiosk at a Wal-Mart and paid $80 to print out hundreds of pictures dating to 2006. Her grandchildren grew up on her memory card.

I can relate. My granddaughter wrote a full page of instructions, in longhand no less, on how to take and post a picture on Instagram. I’m still working my way through it. I guess Instagram involves instantly sharing pictures of whatever it is I’m doing — in other words, Facebook in living color.

Don’t get me started on Facebook. My kids are enthusiastic Facebookers and they talked me into trying it. Now I’ve got “friend requests” from people I don’t know.

I don’t wish to be rude by ignoring their earnest entreaties to buddy up, but my modest Facebook page is already full of irrelevancies such as a distant cousin’s search for a parking place at the mall — an adventure shared with me in real time — or a former work associate’s indecision about whether it’s time to buy a new toothbrush.

This is not stuff I need to know, but not a day passes that I don’t see accounts of out-of-kilter sleep habits, the boredom of sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, or bodily functions gone awry after a night on the town. These are persons I’d consider it a stretch to call casual acquaintances.

But if Facebook floats your boat, good for you.

And if you got a new smart phone for Christmas, make a New Year’s resolution to print, store, and then delete some of those pictures you took during the long holiday season. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself thumbing through your camera’s photos next summer and wondering why you thought 12 pictures of your cat in a Santa hat were necessary.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday. His commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard each Monday at 5:44 p.m. on WGTE-FM 91.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com



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