Photographs are uniquely magical, capable of capturing both the transient and transcendent details of a fleeting moment in our lives. A few decades ago, they were relatively rare too. We only pulled out our cameras for special occasions, printed photos in sets of 24 or 36, and pressed them into albums or hung them on the wall. When digital cameras became popular in the 1990s, we gradually stopped printing our photos and began storing them instead, quickly filling up hard drives and memory cards.
A flood of photos
Then, in 2000, the world of photography exploded with the advent of camera phones. With cameras in our pockets every day, we started taking pictures of everyday moments. Fast forward to 2019, when two-thirds of humanity owns a cell phone (that’s 5 billion people), more than 1.2 trillion digital images are captured globally every year, and we upload upwards of 350 million photos to Facebook every day.
And just like that, photos don’t feel unique, magical, or rare anymore. Instead, they are ubiquitous: interrupting our lives in an unending stream of annoying notifications. So, your cousin ate a taco. Do you really need to see the picture? Technology has given us a gift, and we are already growing weary of it.
You would think we would respond by cutting back. Instead, the number of pictures we take every year only continues to climb. As of July, 2019, more than 50 billion photos were posted on Instagram, the leading social media site for sharing pictures.
Why are we taking so many pictures? Because we want to preserve every memory! But instead of feeling satisfied with this glut of images, we are becoming overwhelmed. This phenomenon is called “image overload.” We look at so many pictures, we cannot process their details and end up feeling frustrated, anxious, and overwhelmed. A study conducted by Fairfield University goes further, suggesting a “photo-taking-impairment” effect. Study participants, who were told to take photos in an art museum, could not recall details of their subjects as well as other participants, who were simply told to look at the art. The fear is of how that might play out in real life scenarios. Will the overuse of camera phones interrupt genuine experiences between parents and their children, for example? And how many times do we fail to even look at all the photos we take, instead dumping them, unorganized, on our computers, then setting out to take even more?
But, in truth, many of us are even skipping that step. We keep an average of 630 photos on our phones, a genuine danger since 65 percent of consumers report losing data from their devices. This “delete anxiety” only makes a “storage almost full” message on your iPhone that much more dreadful.
Back up for peace of mind
The special moments in your life can never be relived, and your photos cannot be replaced. The ultimate way to counteract delete anxiety is to make sure your pictures are protected.
- Back up your photos. Reputable cloud storage services are a great place to start, since you can set up your phone to run automatic backups.
- Back them up again. Experts recommend you back up your data in more than one way, in more than one place, to truly keep them safe from physical or electronic loss. Keep a copy of your photos on a hard drive or SSD. Whether you choose to use an internal or external drive, you should have ample room to download your photos and free up memory on your phone. Assuming an average photo size of 500K, a 1TB SSD will hold about 2 million photos!
- Organize as you go. Create a simple system to keep track of photos on your drive. Creating a new folder for every year, for example, with subfolders labeled for holidays and special occasions, will make it easier to go back later and find the photos you need.
But how do we counteract image overload? Here are a few tips.
- Keep taking pictures. A study conducted at the University of Southern California found that taking pictures enhances our joy during special occasions, and can even turn our focus away from negative aspects of an experience.
- Delete bad photos. Remove duplicate and blurry shots right away. Save only the best.
- Go old school. When you pull out your phone, pretend you’re using a disposable camera. You only have 24 shots to take: make them good ones! You can even download one of numerous disposable camera apps to enhance your retro picture-taking experience.
- Post photos that reflect real life. Your family and friends are wacky and lovable, so go ahead and share them in all their strangeness. And don’t forget to share some real-life moments that are more aggravation than picture perfect. You might look back on them with greater joy than you would think.
- Post too many pictures. One good picture of your cat is surely as good as five (I’m preaching to myself here.) So, go ahead and take several shots of that beautiful sunset, but only post the best one.
- Take too many selfies. We think you’re cute, but if you’re posting a selfie every day, your friends are probably growing weary of them. Limit yourself to one a week and be thoughtful about where you post, and why.
- Get in the way of wedding photographers. Don’t be that person who gets called out on Facebook for ruining the perfect shot of the bride and groom with your cellphone. Unless you can take a discreet shot from your seat in the second row, keep your camera phone in your pocket. Chances are good that the happy couple will share dozens of great shots on social media.
- Look at life through the camera lens. When your third grader gives his Abraham Lincoln speech, he wants to see your smile when he looks out into the audience. Don’t let him miss your encouraging expression because you have a phone covering your face.
- Fail to print some of your photos. It has never been easier to digitally upload photos to a reputable printing service and have them delivered right to your door. So, print your favorites, send them to the grandparents, frame a few, and enjoy!
By setting up a manageable backup plan, your photos will be safer than ever – no matter how many you take. But with a new appreciation for selectively snapping and posting your photos, you should be able to reduce image overload and get back to enjoying the special moments in your life.
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