Photographs and Memories
I watched video on YouTube recently that asked the question, "How many photographs have been taken?" (The first few minutes are about photos. After that, he goes on to other topics, also interesting, but less pertinent to this article.) The answer was staggering. He reports that there are an estimated 3.5 trillion pictures taken since the invention of the photograph almost 200 years ago. Even more incredible, an estimated 4 billion of those photos were taken in 2012 alone, and 10% of all photos still in existence today were taken last year. And, finally, the statistic that made the biggest impression on me? Approximately 20% of all photos taken today end up on Facebook. Cat memes, anyone?
The reason we take so many more pictures these days than in the past is obvious: digital cameras are easy to use, inexpensive, and we can take as many pictures as we want. In the days of plain old film cameras, we had to ration our picture-taking so as not to waste film or spend money developing poorly focused pictures of a cat's tail or mom's torso. Now? Just point and shoot, point and shoot.
Having relatively high quality cameras on our phones makes picture-taking even more ubiquitous. Though we may not always carry a separate camera with us, most of us always have our cell phone nearby. I know I do. In fact, I don't even have a working camera right now aside from my phone, and without it, I probably wouldn't take many pictures at all. Case in point: Not long after S was born, our digital camera broke. There is a three-month period when S was a baby in which I took no pictures. Then, when we got camera phones, I started taking pictures regularly again. And it's a good thing, too, or I wouldn't have many pictures of baby S, or toddler N, or baby G, or toddler G, or our vacations, or the new cars we bought, or our new house, or the interesting dinner I made, or the pretty brownies with the raspberries on top, or the way G puts his head on the cat, or the first day of school, or... or... well, you get the picture. To put in terms of numbers, the phone I had from February of 2011 until December of 2012 (22 months) had over 1700 pictures on it by the time I retired it in favor of my new phone, with a better camera. That phone, after two months, has 265 pictures on it. Click, click, click.
There's this urge to capture every moment, especially when you have kids. Before kids, we took pictures of our cats, vacations, and the occasional event. Now? Every day is something new. The baby sits up for the first time. The toddler chooses his own crazy outfit. The kindergartner writes his first sentence. Or, sometimes, it's just, "Aren't my kids so amazingly cute?" or "What a sweet smile!" With film cameras, it wasn't always possible to take a picture of every moment that passed, but we could, at least, capture some of the best ones. With camera phones, every moment becomes a "Kodak moment," an opportunity to create a lasting memory for all the world to share.
One Sunday a few weeks ago, we took the kids to the park. It was cold and rainy, but it was also sunny. It was very peculiar weather, and it led to a perfect rainbow arching across the field. My husband captured the most beautiful picture of our two older boys standing together, holding hands, admiring the rainbow.
But I don't need every minute. I don't need every smile, every funny outfit, every new discovery on film (or disk). Sometimes, I just want the image I have in my mind, the pleasure of the retelling, and the integrity of seeing my baby without a lens between us.