In centuries gone by future generations could look forward to opening a real box, filled with carefully selected concrete objects that were the sum total of a life spent on this earth. Often reflective of material wealth these boxes could be seemingly sparse or a treasure trove of heirlooms to be passed from generation to generation before being sold at auction by that distant relative for whom it no longer held a sentimental meaning.
On the birth of my children I started these boxes of memories, tied up with a ribbon and currently sitting under my bed – hospital tag, CD of the Number One song when they were born, first baby-gro, favourite photos, drawings they brought home from nursery, the first lost tooth. What will I continue to fill the box with as they grow up? Twelve years on from the birth of my first in the year 2000 and I now ‘save’ poems written on my iPad, videos filmed on my phone, audio files sent to me of a song they have recorded in their bedroom on their iPod. I can recall recording myself on cassette tape at that age, I probably still have it somewhere but not the means to play it now.
I have not printed photographs for four years. Every shot I have taken resides on my computer, backed up to an external hard drive. The decision to stop printing photos was more of a subconscious one as the cupboard where I keep the photo albums was full. And when do I have time to look at these ‘treasured’ memories? I do have a wider audience for my photos now – family ones get saved to virtual albums on Facebook, arty ones (subtly changed with whatever photography app is my current favourite) get posted to Path, photos of food and drink end up on Foursquare. Would I have taken a photograph of a roast dinner in a pub on my old 35mm, hoped it would be in focus, taken it to a photographers to be printed out and put it in an album? I doubt it.
What relevance will our digital memories hold in future years? Being stored in a virtual world they can easily become too numerous. I do not trip over them when tidying up. I do not need to store them in the loft for when my children are older and ask about their childhood. Nothing needs to be carefully wrapped in tissue paper. Ink does not fade on a page. However I do wonder if they will last? Things I wrote myself twenty years ago have been transferred from page to 3 1/2 inch write-protected diskette to CD-Rom to DVD to USB stick and now the Cloud . Formats have changed and some things have been lost – but not the pieces of paper. The pen in this instance would appear to be mightier than the hard drive.
Whilst we continue to create our digital legacies with every footstep we take in the virtual world, will future generations be able to access them? Will opening a website of memories hold the same fascination as dusting off a faded box tied with ribbon found under the bed? I will leave you with an image of future archeologists (who studied Digital History at school) virtually digging up our fossilised footprints and piecing our lives together from 140 character-long snippets. It probably is not too far from the truth.
This blog post arose from the need to fill in an application for SW Digital Educators and a conversation with a friend over a cup of tea about unedited films of family holidays and Nativity plays.
The conclusion? Better to experience life than watch it through a lens.