Nothing Gold Can Stay (Including My iPhone)

For the first time in two weeks, I’m home for more than two days in a row , so it feels right to use this downtime to sit down and overthink to a degree that might be unhealthy reminisce about what I’ve been up to. And what better way to spark reminisces than to scroll through the thousands of photos that are constantly threatening to consume every last megabyte of my phone’s storage? My iPhone photography is so prolific that I moved about 400 photos from my phone to a private Facebook album to clear room before my trips, and managed to use up all of that free space before I got home from the last one.

Why do I do this to myself? Why do I stuff my phone with photos from airplane windows, concert audiences, shorelines and forests?

I like to think of it as preservation. Each photo is something for my mind to grab onto and use as proof of my experiences as I go through life.

Some would say that memory is a better repository for memories than an iPhone. I admit, in the past I’ve spent entire concerts trying to capture songs on video with as much clarity as possible, only to leave them to metaphorically rot in the confines of the Videos album on my phone (and leaving myself with very few memories as detailed as those videos). But I still find myself compulsively whipping out my phone to capture a shot of a sunset or a lead singer even when I promise myself that I’ll save the moment for my mind alone, where it can remain private and perhaps more cherished than those shots that I capture on my phone and share online. And when I think of it further, I realize that the mind can be a very unsafe place for a memory. We alter our memories all the time as our perspectives change, and, moreover, our brains are susceptible to injuries that could wipe out our entire idea of ourselves, let alone the sight of some wildflowers on a recent hike.

So maybe I’ve rescued the idea of taking photos as a way to preserve sights that we want to hold onto, but some may say that tangible, printed photos are more meaningful than thumbnails on a five-inch touchscreen. Normally I would counter that while photos may be lost, stolen, or destroyed, the Cloud is forever. Now I’m not so sure.

As I think I mentioned before, my laptop unexpectedly died while I was in Canada. I’ve since ordered a new one, but there’s a chance the data left on my hard drive may be irretrievable. I used to download photos from my phone and my camera’s memory card to my laptop and consider them safe, and clearly that is not always the case. Recently, like I said above, I developed the foresight to move the photos from my phone to a private Facebook album rather than deleting it and relying on my hard drive, but even that small portion of pictures faces the threat of oblivion.  As I learned at the Digital Humanities Institute while at the University of Victoria (the hundreds of pictures of which currently reside in temporary peace on my iPhone), technology moves rapidly and unforgivingly. The types of electronic literature that were once boundary-pushing works, like hypertext or Flash poetry, have become obsolete, unreadable, and for all intents and purposes lost within a decade of their publication. I have no evidence to say that the same won’t be true of Facebook, or Cloud storage, or the Internet, in the future.
even social media spaces that operate sans physical computer won’t last forever, either.

Ultimately, there is no safe place to store my beloved memories, be it a Facebook album, a box of 4×6 photos, or my own mind. I can see how this information could make me giving up trying to record anything, call it moot, and resolve to live permanently in the present. But honestly, it makes me all the more eager for those fleeting moments of transitory fame and glory that come with posting a great picture of something I saw last week on Instagram.

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