Boxes of glass slide photos

I fear boxes of unlabeled photos. Not unlike Philip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, later made into the movie Blade Runner, I conceive of family photos as providing some sort of identity, a set of stored memories, for a person. Unlabeled photos are lost memories, and a loss of personal identity. 

When my grandmother died, I found a box of glass slides in the basement. Unlabeled. I had no projector with with to project the slides - they apparently dated back into the 1930s and 1940s. That box made me realized that it was not just unlabeled photos that were to be feared, but the loss of the projection technology. 

Stored a photo on a 3.5 inch floppy disk in 1993? No way to access that from a 2010 computer. Sure, maybe you can still special order a 3.5 inch floppy disk drive. But how about the older 5.25 inch disks? Anyone remember 50 Mb Zip drives from Iomega? Still have a Zip drive with which to read those disks? Did you order photos on a CD in the 1990s? Sure, we can still read CD drives, but the USB flash drive has supplanted CDs. In fifty years CDs will be the glass slides of 1978.

Image storage and retention, as well as storage media, has concerned me since I found that box of photos in 1978.

Back in 1999 even though digital images were still under one megabyte in size, I had no easy way to back-up image files. Floppy disks were hopelessly small, and Zip drives were cumbersome and still held only 50 Mb, later 100 Mb as I recall. When my hard drive went south forever I lost all of my originals.

At that time I realized that the only secure long term storage was as web images on web servers that were being backed up. Later I would carry this concept into the cloud and Picasa, my blog, and FaceBook. Local storage is just that: local and unavailable to anyone else, and terribly vulnerable to loss.

A colleague recently asked for the original of an image I shot digitally in Kosrae, Christmas 2007. My hunt for a copy of the original reminded me of the problems of local storage.

My 2003 office desktop long ago ran out of hard drive space. So I archived the original Christmas 2007 photos onto CD-ROMs and a second computer in my office. I cannot now locate the CD-ROMs, they are not where I thought I had filed my CDs. There are image CDs from 2007 in that location, but not for Christmas. 

I checked the second computer in my office - it is newer and has a larger hard drive. But the image files are all gone. A surprise to me to be sure. 

Oddly enough, since I also work at home, I sometimes have sets of images on the large hard drive at home. The computer in the house goes back to 2007, so I got dumb lucky and found the originals for 2007.

Ultimately I will lose the home set. Yes, I could burn them to a CD, but then as noted above CDs are simply another glass slide. USB flash drives are all the rage for storing images nowadays, yet even USB drives are probably going to be obsoleted by Google docs, Picasa, FaceBook photo storage (the largest collection of images on the planet now), and those like me that now "archive" images by blogging them. 

The Christmas set in question is 240 Mb. Maybe one day bandwidth and free on line storage will make it economic to upload those images to a cloud, but that day has not yet arrived for Pohnpei. For now I work on retaining the web sized images both locally and on line. Towards this end I now shoot all images at 640 x 480, the present day default display size of images in FaceBook, Picasa, and Blogger. I know this will evolve, but 640 x 480 maximizes cloud storage space and keeps upload times reasonable. 

Back in 1998 I was uploading images at 200 by 150 pixels. I moved up to 350, 400, and 525 pixel widths. 640 by 480 still feels somewhat luxurious, but probably not ten years from now. 

What is the lifespan on Picasa, FaceBook images, or for that matter, the cloud? Are these not the ultimately inaccessible technologies if they disappear? Probably. But prints are not going to last much more than a hundred years, if that. And the Internet probably has at least that much lifespan in it. 

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