February 11, 2014

If You Took a Photo, You're Sharing it, Right?

Back in the olden days, or at least to the 1980s, proud parents would take photos of their family, have the film developed at a photo lab, and then take the hard copies of these photos home. Some of the photos would be placed in keepsake books. Others would be framed. But you pretty much had to be in the same physical location as the person holding the photo. They brought the photos to you, and you looked at them, lovingly, or at least passively, for a moment, before handing them back or to the next relative down the line.

Entire histories of lives come and gone are frozen in these physical collections - to be viewed irregularly, as memories are shared with nostalgia. But in the last two decades, our ability to take an exponentially increasing amount of photos, more quickly, in higher quality, and share them instantly practically anywhere, has turned the notion of scarcity on its head. Now anybody, should you choose, can see any photo you've ever taken, on any number of social outlets of your choice - whether you're using a phone or a more professional camera, or even +Google Glass.

With these barriers out of your way, with everyone having this seemingly infinite capability to capture practically every moment, you're also seeing people's intent for distribution change not for nostalgia to the past, but for a time sharing window of minutes or days. Photos are no longer looked back on as bits of the past that one happened, but in many cases, a lens (so to speak) into a shared present. Here's what I'm doing right now. Here's an experience I just had that you need to know about and engage with... right now.

I took all of these photos, but only shared some.

So as a parent, as I take photos at home or out on our trips, and see others with their various cameras and smartphones taking images in, I'm not thinking of these hardbound photo books that get passed to future generations, or even in most cases, online photo book equivalents like +SmugMug or +Shutterfly, but instead to ephemeral destinations in the stream, be it Facebook, Instagram, Google+ or Twitter. And the target audience has changed as well. The photos you're taking of your kids and friends aren't always for them to have a shared memory of what you did together, but instead for you to update other friends, other colleagues, and often strangers, to the experience you're having.

If I didn't share it, did it happen?

The more professional photographer may take hundreds or even thousands of photos on an adventure. They'll painstakingly go through each shot and find the very best ones that were captured with the optimal setup and lighting. Then, after much editing, they'll share a select few - a best of the best, to an audience who has come to expect a high level of quality from them. But for the rest of us, usually the best we'll do is pick our favorite few and lob them to the nearest social networks where our friends and family will see it. Or worse, we'll just delete the ones that make us look bad, and post the entire glob of photos as a collection - a digital slide show that hopes our friends will care enough to find their favorite, and leave us a comment, Like or +1 in return to give a head nod of agreement.

Now that my kids are entering their sixth year of life, and are on the home stretch of kindergarten, I've captured my unfair share of thousands of photos - some good, some bad. I've backed them all up to +Google Drive so I can get to all my photos on all my +Android and ChromeOS devices - or any device with an Internet connection, really. With online storage space becoming cheaper and the ease of posting getting down to almost zero, there's nothing stopping me from taking more photos. And the more smartphones and wearables we get with cameras, the more we can be constant amateur shutterbugs.

And think forward a bit - away from today's streams. As technology advances forward, the way we share changes. We've moved from slide carousels of vacations and Walgreen's photo labs to online photo book replicas, and in-stream editing. We're not backing up our photos to CDs and DVDs, and I don't see a future where I'll hand my kids a microscopic Flash drive upon graduation. They'll just know. Any photo that's ever been taken that I want them to have will be available - and I shouldn't have to do anything. We've eliminated the physical barriers that dictated how we share. Even more, these virtual walls are coming down. In the mean time, I bet when you take that photo, you're thinking where you're going to share it.

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