25 June 2008

Drawing the digital line

There is a distinct line starting to form in my life between content that I have available digitally and content that I have only in older analog forms. For example, I got my first digital camera in June 2003. Almost all the digital photos on my computer are from June 2003 or later. I have many older printed photos, but the vast majority of these haven’t been scanned in.

What this means is, when I see my photo screensaver, or when I go looking for photos, I’m only looking through the digital photos since that day. There’s a digital line in my life, and it’s at the start of June 2003. The photos in the older format are inconvenient to browse, to search, or use for much at all besides putting them in photo frames. And there’s only so many photo frames you can put in one apartment.

One interesting side-effect is that it does make posting older photos on the internet kind of fun. You expect to see lots of current photos on the internet. Many people have these ‘photostreams’ of current photos on various sites. However, it’s quite unusual to post a photo from one’s childhood.

Here’s one of the older photos that I scanned in for my sister’s 21st birthday:

Photo of me and my sisters
Me and my sisters, Jenni and Michelle, c. 1990

I don’t even know which year this photo was taken, because when I scanned it in I didn’t record the date which would have been written on the back. This digital line sharply divides information too. Photos before didn’t have metadata, now they do. With the right equipment, and some time to configure it correctly, I can know with supreme accuracy where and when any digital photo was taken. I’m sure facial recognition technology isn’t far away from telling me who is in the photo either, in case I forget.

Fortunately, my music collection wasn’t as susceptible to falling on the wrong side of this digital line. I started buying music long after the introduction of CDs, and all my music was readily convertible into a modern (yet lossy) digital form like MP3 or Ogg Vorbis. I’m sure that older people had a huge collection of cassette tapes or vinyl records which are not so easy to digitise. In this case, the music collection you’ve bought and maintained all your life would not see the benefits of going digital.

I’m not sure what to do about this digital line in my life. It’s not a barrier that is easy to overcome. I could scan in all my old photos, but that would take a long time and putting in all the metadata would be painstaking work. I suspect it’s a shift that I’ll just have to accept, and move on creating content in new digital formats. I guess I should be thankful that the colours of my digital photos won’t fade like the colours of the prints in my photo albums.