Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Digital Revolution?

Ok, today's the day. It's got to be today. If not today, then when? Because one of these days the whole system is going to crash and then it will too late. Everything will be lost and we'll be left with nothing. Do you hear me, digital camera? Because I'm talking to you. And today is the day I will finally do whatever is necessary to get the pictures out of your silver-plated claws and into my hands.

I'm tired of seeing the highlights of my life on your 3-inch LCD screen. I've had it with memories frozen inside your steely interior. I'm even annoyed when I hear that little fake chirping sound when I push the "On" button. You mock me with your little tweet tweet.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the amazing technological advance that is the digital camera. But it's hardly a perfect system, and sometimes it's the biggest steps forward that leave us yearning for the past.

I don't think my parents ever owned a camera of their own, but if they did, they certainly didn't get much use out of it. As a result, their basement contains a few drawers stuffed with a very odd assortment of old photos. It's a place where my first birthday party mingles with a visit from the Pope, and my brother is standing next to a stuffed giraffe. We don't have baby books, family photo albums or scrapbooks that document the past in any sort of an organized fashion. Just some tattered pictures, many now smeared with fingerprints and frayed around the edges. I used to spend hours combing through those random treasures, staring at the faces from decades past, making up my own stories to go along with them. There's my mom with her Jackie O. hairdo, watching my brother bat at a pinata on his birthday. The photo is a little blurry as she's never been able to stand still and focus on a camera. "Mom in Motion," the caption might read. And then there's my dad in his bright yellow "Maid of the Mist" raincoat at Niagara Falls. He's so serious, not smiling at all, but in my mind I knew he was thinking "It hasn't been easy but it's worth it. We left our home country behind, but look at what we get to show our family. What other wonders await?"

Sadly, I don't think either of these pictures would have made the cut in today's digital world. Back in the days of film we'd take our shot, capture the moment the best we could, then move on to enjoy it. Days, or even weeks later our photos would return from the lab and we'd relive the experience all over again, warts and all. The results weren't always perfect; sometimes eyes were closed, sometimes hair was out of place, sometimes heads were cut out. But the moment was there, and it was honest.

Today, we have instant gratification. Just point, click, and bing! There's your memory. Don't like it? Just erase it and try again. It's a luxury that's sure to improve the radiance of our smiles, but don't we risk editing too much out of our lives? No experience is perfect, no matter how many times we reshoot it. So why not capture it the first time, be happy with what appears and get back to actually experiencing the moment?

Our digital cameras allow us to instantly send our memories all around the world with just one click, but then what? I doubt my children will one day flip longingly through my Mobile Upload folder on Facebook, or spend a rainy day sorting through old Twitter updates. Yes, the digital photo frame on the coffee table is lovely and my son giggles with delight as it flips through its magic slide show. But it's still no substitute for flipping through the pages of an actual album, holding those memories in human hands, running fingers over the faces and the places tucked inside.

So here we go, digital camera. You and I have a date today, one that's long overdue. I'm taking back what belongs to me- you don't get to hold my memories any more. And I'm taking my finger off the "delete" button, because I want to remember life as it is, even if it isn't always picture perfect.

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