About a year ago, my parents’ printer died. They did some looking around and settled on a cheap HP to replace it. It’s one of those scanner/copier/printer combo deals, so they figured it was worth the extra $20 because it would come in handy.

When I was home over Christmas break, I dug out a shoe box full of pictures from the closet at the end of the hall. There are probably 3 or 4 shoe boxes and a couple albums full of photos in there, and I have no idea when they were pulled out last. My brother and I went through a bunch of them one time when we were kids, but I haven’t seen any of them since. With my plans to start digitizing my life in a Wiki, I figured it would be good to have a photographic history too.

I picked one of the small shoe boxes to start with and scanned some 75 or 100 pictures. They ranged from 1980-ish till about 1991 and had no real order to them. It was tough to tell when a lot of them were taken, but some had a date stamped in the bottom corner or on the back, and my mom had written a small note on the back of a few. For the most part though, it was a shot in the dark, or (if I was lucky), deductive reasoning: dad’s wearing that same shirt in both of these pictures and they’re both from a Christmas, so I can assume they’re both from 1989. Even so, they were all mixed in together so the date on most of them is a mystery.

I would post a few pictures of Baby Brock, but the CD I burned them to was somehow corrupted. I’m hoping no one deleted the folder I left on my parents’ computer, because I’ll copy them when I’m home this weekend.

Anyway, my point in telling that story was that our kids won’t have to go through the same crap. Digital cameras can be had for less than $100 these days, and almost everyone has one. A lot of people have them on their person most of the time and snap pictures of everything. You never have to buy film or pay for photo development; once you’ve got the camera and (if you want) a larger memory card, you can just keep taking pictures for free.

So we do. A lot.

Most people I know have some kind of organization technique for their pictures. I create new folders for each event and add the date to the end of the name, for reference. From there, I view and rename them in Picasa2, which I highly recommend. A lot of people (myself included) use Flickr, providing an enormous photographic resource, due in a large part to tagging. Consider the sxsw2005 tag: there are, at this writing, almost 800 photos from SXSW. Almost 3000 are tagged simply “sxsw” and presumably cover this and past conferences. I don’t need to know anyone who went to the conference to see what happened and who was there - dozens of people are making that information available to me, and a lot of them provide detailed information on every shot.

Due to the prevalence of digital cameras and the popularity of Flickr (and services like it), our generation will be better documented than any before us. My kids will be able to look through old pictures and know at a glance when and where it was taken and who the other people in the photo are. My parents can’t even give me a definite year for a lot of their pictures.

Granted, this hinges on the continued availability of Flickr and my own hard drive and CD backups, but, barring disaster, we will leave behind far more visual artifacts than our predecessors.