By Ishani Nath @ishaninath
Is photo-sharing taking away from personal family story telling?
A few month’s ago, my cousin and I were rummaging around in my parents’ basement and unearthed some old family albums. With that one discovery, our plan for the evening completely changed.
We ended up pouring over photos for hours, hearing stories from my parents about the “good ol’ days” and laughing about the horrible haircuts everyone used to have. After returning the books to their place, I wondered if I would ever have this experience with my children.
The industry behind developing and printing rolls of film is predicted to contract by a third by 2017, according to the Financial Post, and companies such as Kodak, are facing major revenue losses.
It seems like these days, people would rather publish to social networks than printing their photos and creating albums, but how will this change how we share our memories?
“Today’s world is so busy, people don’t have time to sit down and flip through actual photo albums, they prefer the quick glances they can see online,” says photographer Laura Kovacs. “I remember when I was little we would meet up at my aunt and uncle’s house, make dinner and gather in the living room to eat and watch a slide show. And I mean real, old-fashioned slides reflected on the back wall. It was like watching a movie, slides from their travels, their kids growing up, the pictures were blurry but they were their special memories.”
While technology has advanced beyond projectors, RTA School of Media professor Ramona Pringle says that our love for photos and sharing memories has not been lost.
“Our relationship to paper photos is very much an emotional one and — a nostalgic one,” says Pringle “While there is a craft and a beauty to printed photos, the truth is, for many people, what is so meaningful about photographs is the people who are in them, the events, and the memories. In this way, the more we can share, the better.”
Now, rather than sitting through a slideshow, users can scan through photos on Facebook, where more than 250 million photos are uploaded per day, or click through the photo-sharing app, Instagram, which boasts more than 150 million users.
Though the intimacy of sitting with someone and sharing stories doesn’t always translate to online networks, my aunt, Ragini Kapil, says that Facebook enabled her to share memories and see photos from a larger network of friends and family.
“The pictures allow you to become connected in a way that you wouldn’t be with words,” Ragini says, who now actively comments and “likes” images of close friends as well as old acquaintances. Going through people’s digital albums allows her to “keep up to date even though you’re not keeping in touch,” she says.
The photo-sharing experience may not be as intimate as it once was, but it Pringle says that online photos help us connect in other ways.
“Where we might have had to be in the same room as someone else to see photos from a memorable event, now we can share those memories with people around the globe instantaneously,” says Pringle who also produces online videos at rdigitalife.com, which considers the impact of technology on our everyday lives. which consider the impact of technology on our everyday lives. “If the photos help a loved one who is long distance share in a moment they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise participate in, that digital sharing is creating closeness.”
For my grandmother, Jyan Nath, online photos have allowed her to watch her great- nieces in Amsterdam and Hong Kong grow up, but she worries that as technology continues to change, we run the risk of losing photos and memories along the way.
At 80 years old, she has lived through the evolution of photos from film to digital, storing images in albums to floppy disks to memory sticks to online networks, but she still believes in the power of print.
“For me, the joy of finding old photographs from the early 1930s and going through them and talking about them, it’s a totally different kind of enjoyment and fulfillment,” she says. “It’s an experience you can’t have on the screen.”
Alisha Kapil, my cousin and one of Nath’s five grandchildren, agrees saying that sharing photos online can sometimes feel too impersonal. Though she is a frequent user of Facebook and Instagram, Alisha says that she has recently cut back on how many images she uploads in an effort to protect her privacy. Instead, she uses her phone as a portable and new-age version of the classic family album, sharing photos with friends and family in-person rather than online.
Going forward, Alisha says she is determined to give future generations the same fun experiences flipping through physical photo albums that she enjoyed.
Going forward, Alisha says she is determined to give future generations the same fun experiences flipping through physical photo albums that enjoyed.
“When I have kids, I want to keep an album because the practice of it is something that will get lost,” she says.
Whether it’s online or in print, some say it’s not about the medium but about the photos themselves.
“There’s an immediacy to how and what we share that we didn’t have before, and as much as that has to do with our devices, it has to do with the ever increasing pace of our lives,” says Pringle. “Still, one of the greatest pulls of the digital world and of social media is each other, both connecting with each other and sharing those special moments and memories, so while the way we share might be changing, I think our desire to capture those special moments isn’t going away.”
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