I was listening to a radio programme this week about ‘digital hoarders’ and how people have so much digital information about their lives, selfies and photographs and Facebook and Instagram status updates.
Often the memories of our childhoods have been reinforced by the photographs we have seen repeatedly in family albums – imprinting the past events. If this is true, then future generations should be able to remember their childhoods and pasts in much greater detail than we could – providing they’re not overwhelmed by the many thousands of images they’d need to trawl through.
When I was a child, my dad got our family photos developed not as prints but on to slides. We would have family slideshows where we sat in the darkness listening to the sound of the hum of the projector and watching the dust dance in the cone of light stretching from projector to screen, as my dad reinforced our childhood memories.
I loved these slideshows, possible because we could not access these images easily, so they became special and looking at them became a real occasion.
We’d laugh in delight when an image appeared upside down and dad would have to take the slide out and put it up the right way. There were photos of our seaside holidays, and of family gatherings. I have not seen these slides for years but am certain that they will match up to my more vivid memories, like signposts or markers through my past.
There was one slide I remember in particular, of myself and my sister, two little red haired girls in yellow dresses standing tiny but resolute against Stonehenge, actually leaning on the stones (unlike nowadays where a fence keeps the tourists at bay). As he often did, my dad was using us to indicate scale – he often did this with landmarks and buildings so there are quite a few photos with two little dots in the distance, these dots being me and Susan demonstrating the size of some cathedral or bridge.
Nowadays children and teenagers have thousands of photos from their childhoods, and many more of their daily lives. We are drowning in images, shared and enjoyed immediately. No need to wait days for films to be developed.
Now people can travel through their social media timelines, re-posting photos from past events, sharing them with friends and family and generating a stream of comments. Or the family might gather around a laptop or tablet to look at the latest holiday photos – all 700 of them.
We have more recorded memories than ever before, and we have giant screens and ever more sophisticated ways to share these memories, turning images into slideshows and even setting them to music.
But the biggest challenge with so much to choose from is selectivity, taking the time (in short supply for many of us) to pick out and treasure the images that best capture those special times and moments.
Only when the information is edited down to a manageable level can we look back with the people who matter, perhaps even making occasions of remembering together, just we did in that darkened room with the slide projector all those years ago.