Memories of baby now reside in phone rather than photo album

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Feb. 28, 2013

Memories of baby held in phone, not in an album

The wall over the desk in my office at home is hung with snapshots of family and friends, inspiration for when I need a little push to write this column or anything else I might be working on.

The pictures have been culled from years of going through the photo albums of grandparents and parents. Many have been taken from place to place with moves over the years, tucked into books, shoeboxes and desk drawers.

Actual photo albums on my shelves, however, are few and far between. There are gaps in the years to be filled in by imagination. During a recent visit with my grandparents, my kids and I flipped through plastic-coated pages brittle with age, and took a trip into the distant past. Each leather-bound book was a time capsule filled with faded images from a camera, a contraption from the past that Jules Verne might as well have imagined.

These days most of us don’t carry cumbersome cameras that require a flashbulb, batteries and a roll of film. We have a phone. And that phone is, more than likely, equipped with an application that will make the snapshot you just took of your kid on a swing at the park look like it was taken in 1978. Or, if you prefer, 1928.

When I look at my own baby pictures, the washed-out tones and white, tell-tale borders help place the time firmly in the 1970s. The Instagram app does that for us now. Other than the electronic tablets in their hands, a picture of my kids last Christmas morning might just as easily have been taken four decades ago. It is a way for us to force nostalgia upon something witnessed only moments before.

Within our phones is where these photos will reside; a collection of ones and zeroes zipping through circuits and saved somewhere in a cloud. Something as precious as a baby book is quickly becoming an anachronism.

What seasoned parents know is that, with each child, the chances of putting together such a memento becomes slimmer and slimmer. When my oldest was born, I wasn’t snapping pictures with a telephone and texting them to family three states away. Had anyone suggested such a thing in 1998, I would have looked as confused as I was anyway standing there in the labor and delivery room at Baptist Hospital. Instead, I held up my 35mm Pentax and documented Calvin’s arrival into what now seems a low-fi, analog world. Those precious memories were entrusted to Walgreen’s and a day or two later I retrieved an envelope of glossy photos to tape into his book.

My 6-year-old, by contrast, pressured us for her book only last year. We were woefully short on actual, hard-copy photographs. What I did have was a phone full of her face. And some dinners I’d prepared. And quite a few of a recent show at the Hi-Tone, some plumbing that needed to be repaired and a particularly picturesque sunset.

What do we picture for the future? A set of hard drives arranged on the bookshelf by year? A lone smart phone hung on the wall above my desk? Document childhood well because it is fleeting and the memories captured will evaporate over time; gone, it seems, in an instagram.

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