Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 16, 2022

Albums of the future

Sister Gaila and I spent several days this past November going through our mother's 50-plus photo albums and scrapbooks. Brother Dave joined us one afternoon that featured a lot of laughter and reminiscing. We began by throwing out photos that were blurry, over-exposed, under-exposed, had people’s heads cut off and so on. We then shared the pictures we wanted, sending the rest to the great beyond.

We were impressed by the great job mom did documenting our family's circle of life. In her chronological albums, we could see hairstyles, fashions, wallpaper, furniture - and us! - change through the decades. It was fun watching the folks evolve from young parents to grandparents, we three kids grow up, and our own kids transform from babies to adults.

She also had vacation albums for trips to California, Colorado, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Bolivia. Another chronicled her trip to Sweden to see where her father was born.

One "special" scrapbook documented her 31 years of teaching and another contained photos and descriptions of barns in my native Marion County, Kansas.

Friend Bryce can seemingly quickly access almost any photo he’s ever taken. When Bob Dole died last December, Bryce sent pictures he had taken in August 1974 in Marquette, Kansas, of Dole campaigning for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Queen Elizabeth's recent death prompted photos of Bryce’s family at Buckingham Palace for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Queen's coronation.

He admits to being somewhat obsessive-compulsive about his photos, but he has a good reason.

My aunt's and uncle's house burned down - just about a mile from ours - when I was 3. My aunt always said that losing their photos was the hardest part. ...

... In about 1964, our next farm over neighbors' house burned on Christmas Eve while the family was away. While my uncles tried to save a few things, Dad, remembering my aunt's words, pulled a few framed photos off the walls and saved any photos he could find. That was the right move, according to the homeowners.

But I sometimes wonder about having too much of a good thing. In an August column titled "Time Capsules," Ned Seaton, our local newspaper publisher, made an observation that resonated:

One of the benefits of carrying a smartphone around 24-7 is the ability to document nearly everything with photos. We all have a bazillion pics of our kids, our dogs, our fancy drinks and, yes, our breakfasts. The filtered selfies have gotten completely out of control, ...

My photo-taking was once constrained by having to carry a bulky camera, purchase film, and have prints made. Like mom, I created albums with those photos - albums I can breeze through and locate a particular photo with relative ease.

But a few years after husband Art bought me a digital camera, I quit. The newer photos are of far better quality and store neatly on my computer. However, there are so many more that it's far more work than flipping pages in a physical album.

It made me wonder why some of us try to capture so much of our lives. Art said he had a college psychology professor who said we have a need to keep track of time and we use milestones - birthdays, graduations, weddings,- to do it. Photos serve to capture those milestones and today's digital cameras make that easier and cheaper than what we had before.

But there are other reasons we take pictures as well, such as entertainment. A 2016 American Psychology Association study showed photographing experiences usually increases the positive feelings we have about those experiences.

Another reason was cited in a 2015 "BBC Future" article, "Are You Taking Too Many Pictures." It said, "the primary role of photography has shifted from commemorating special events and remembering family life, to a way of communicating to our peers, forming our own identity, and bolstering social bonds. Younger generations tend to use the photos ... as a means of communication."

When I look at the pictures our daughters share on Instagram or Snapchat, I can see that. The names even seem to suggest not a milestone, but something fleeting ... of the moment. Daughter Mariya recently shared photos of her walking on campus on a cold, blustery day. The purpose didn't appear to be documenting an event and it certainly wasn't to enhance her "enjoyment" of the moment. Instead, it was a way of saying she doesn't care for the cold. Daughter Katie posted pictures of her snuggling with her dog Willow and cat Kara at 5:30 a.m. Again, neither a milestone nor entertainment. It said, "I don’t want to go to work on this cold morning."

For my birthday this year, Art gave me a new phone with such great picture-taking capabilities that, for the first time in my life, I went on a vacation without a separate camera. Art calculated that if I took photos of the quality that appear at the end of most of my columns, I could take 100 photos per day for an entire lifetime before the phone's memory would be full.

One of today's larger flash drives can store every sound a newborn baby will encounter or make in its life. And one day not so far off, wearable cameras will "life-log" - video everything a person sees in his or her lifetime.

But the greater part of that data will not be worth organizing into albums. What we need is something that will automatically index it and then allow searching it, much the way Google has done for online information. Just imagine asking about a long-ago wedding, where you bought your graduation dress, the sound of grandma’s voice, or anything else that can be described with search parameters, and having the images and sound pop up.

Facial recognition is now used at airports, and driver-less cars can evaluate their surroundings. That searchable future may not be that far off! It could do for albums what Ancestry has done for genealogy!

Top (l-r): dining room table mid-sort; we three siblings with Freeland-family photos. Bottom (l-r): Dave and Gaila holding mom's album about our farm; mom at her 90th birthday part with her camera nearby as always; Bryce and his two children in front of Buckingham Palace.

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