Tuesday 5 April 2016

What will we do with future photos?

A Bizarro cartoon in the paper the other day got me thinking about photos. I have written before about the old photographs I have, taken by family members and how prized they are. Other genealogists have also commented on their pride in having original photos or copies of photos that go well back into the 1800s. They give us a glimpse of the lives led by past generations and tangible exhibits of people related to us that we can compare ourselves with.

Anyway, the cartoon showed a grandmother sometime in the mid-21st century holding a cell phone and asking her granddaughter if she would “Care to see pictures of every meal I’ve ordered in a restaurant in the past 45 years?” It was cute and funny but also got me wondering what the heck are people going to do with pictures taken now and in the future. Few people in my family use or even have photo albums any more that have actual prints stored in them.

I am just in the process of redoing many of our old family albums that have images going back to 1875. My daughter says she wants all the albums we assembled when she was growing up (and after as well) because they record her history and, like me, she is a bit of a pack-rat. I am now filling album number 60. And I have a few more for major holiday trips taken as well and, of course, the various wedding albums. I am sure she will welcome and look after the albums containing pictures taken or originally owned by my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, too. Maybe one or two of my grandchildren might get curious in the future and take them over. I do worry about that sometimes – what will happen to all the family memorabilia, including photographs when I am gone.
The Old and the New: top – one of the old albums belonging to me parents (I put it together as well back in the 1960s); bottom – one of the new, leather-bound albums with protective sheets containing the oldest family photos
Our Family Albums – now numbering 60, plus a few miscellaneous, specialty albums, containing pictures of our family from the time we were married.
Anyway, back to the future. What on Earth will happen to photos being taken today and in the future? Who will care? Who will have time to even look at them? Will genealogy programs even have space to add photos or will they need links to social media pages?

There are many reports and studies on the history of photography and on modern statistics of picture-taking. The first photographs were taken less than 200 years ago. Depending on who you read, about 3.5 trillion photos have been taken since then. More than 380 billion, as of 2011, were being added every year! The largest photo repository is now Facebook. (as described by Amy Hobbs on 12 March 2012 – How  Many Photos Have Ever Been Taken?)
Graph showing number of photographs taken by year since the invention of the daguerreotype in 1874 (from Amy Hobbs, Fstoppers website)
A later report published on the Resource website, estimated that over a trillion photos would be taken in 2015. (described by Jaron Schneider on 12 December 2014 – Infographic: There will be one trillion photos taken in 2015) That’s a lot of photo albums!
Estimate of the number of photographs that will be taken in future years (from Resource website)
Adding photos to family trees will get increasingly more difficult, even as the availability of digital images becomes easier. I have a hard time believing that anyone will have the time to sort through the thousands of pictures of varying quality to choose which ones best portray those individual family members. And I am sure I won’t be able to fit anywhere near the number of pictures even my own children will take on my Legacy Family Tree program.

Many writers have commented on the future demise of family history software, at least of the type I have on my computer, and predict that future genealogist will put everything in the cloud. Maybe some version of Facebook will be designed especially for family trees so that all those thousands of pictures taken by family members in future years can be stored there for their descendants, along with their personal histories.

All that assumes that people will even want to pore through the images on their computer or hand-held device. My children, and grandchildren still, on occasion, love to take down the old binders and put their fingers on actual prints.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.