This morning my computer told me it was out of memory, that it couldn’t save one more byte until I deleted some files. Did I mention that my machine’s got a ton of memory? There’s no way I could have used all that memory in only a single lifetime. Where did it all go? I remember having a discussion years ago with a business owner who was having a hard time deciding whether he should buy a computer with 10 or 20 megabytes, because the difference was thousands of dollars. The cheapest iPhone has 1,600 times that much memory and it can make phone calls and run “Angry Birds,” so I thought the memory problem had been solved.
For years, I’ve been adding family photos and vacation pictures to my hard drive without a problem. It never complained when I would upload 300 photos of the Thanksgiving Day parade. It never said I was getting close to running out when it automatically started sucking pictures off my smartphone — pictures I shoot through the car window, pictures of funny bumper stickers, pictures of things in stores I might want to buy someday. If you’ve got a camera, you might as well use it; it’s not as if you have to spend money developing pictures anymore. You simply post them to Facebook or email them to friends. Who needs physical pictures of the grandkids? Just pass your phone around. When people aren’t talking or texting on their cellphones, they’re taking pictures with them. Imagine how many pictures were taken just today, just by teenagers. The recent spate of news stories on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination tells an unintended story about the thing that has changed the most in 50 years. There is one, count it, one blurry, fuzzy, long-range, almost accidental film of that crime. Imagine how many videos of it there would be if cellphones had existed then. A hundred? A thousand? It used to be rare to see a shot of a tornado on the nightly news, or cars sliding down an icy highway during a winter storm. Now we expect not just to see one video of a disaster, but lots of them. If something weird or unusual happens, someone with a phone will be sure to record it. Photographs aren’t just for weddings, vacations, babies and birthdays any more. There are millions of people out there that take pictures of the food on their plates before they eat it. You could flip through a photograph album of families in the days of film and rarely see a picture of the family pet. How many pictures and videos of cats and dogs are out there now?
But when I first started taking digital pictures, they would take up 300 to 700KB of memory. The pictures I take with my new tablet take up 2.6MB of memory — four or five times as much memory per picture. Sure, they’re much better, but one of these pictures couldn’t have fit on one of those not-so-old 3 1/2-inch floppy discs. Which explained the strange “thank yous” I was getting after emailing 150 pictures of my vacation to my nearest and dearest. “Thank you for tying up my computer for five hours waiting for your crappy pictures to download,” was the nicest and most printable of the lot. I don’t have many friends that I can afford to upset like that too often.
Something had to go, but I am a picture hoarder. Even if it’s a photo with half my finger over the lens, I hate to throw a picture away. I’m storing them in the cloud now to give my desktop a little breathing room. But I don’t like it. What if they lose my picture of last night’s dinner?
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.