Does Technology Suck or What?

Some things you only understand with the passing of time.

The old adage “A shoebox of memories never fails” has never been clearer to us.

Even those of us immersed in the digital technologies of the day can miss what matters most: the ability to easily enjoy memories for generations.

In my short life, I’ve listened to music played on 7″ and 12″ vinyl records, reel-to-reel tapes, 4-track tapes, 8-track tapes, compact cassettes, CDs, digital audio tapes, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and many digital audio formats. With each media comes a new player, destined to become outdated and therefore inaccessible.

Not to mention the degradation: vinyl records wear and get scratched. Tapes get crumpled by the players. Digital files decay, device/media/backup systems fail, users unintentionally delete. And what if your computer gets stolen or your cloud-based storage service goes out of business, or is simply forgotten?

My costly collection of 500 music CDs sits unused on shelves in my basement because even though compact discs offer better quality sound, streaming music is easier to enjoy. Inevitably, one day I will not even have a CD player to play these CDs.

Video has the same risks. Fearing the loss of dozens of family VCR video tapes that my wife, Linda, and I recorded in the early 80s, we recently paid a large sum of money to have them transferred to DVDs. They had already deteriorated, and what we got back was a tiny digital video (in today’s high-pixel world) that played with a blurred orange cast. What are the chances that my children’s children will be able to learn about their grandparents through these videos?

Earlier this year Linda and I felt the brunt of media loss when we emptied out the house where she was raised. We had to move her 94-year-old mother to a new home. Boxes, drawers, cabinets, closets, an attic, and a storage room had held 65 years of living. We found my wife’s childhood box of LINCOLN LOGS®, a Huckleberry Hound VIEW-MASTER®, TINKERTOY®s, an empty PEZ® container, and several boxes of nearly perfect 45 rpm vinyl records.

One record brought back special memories to Linda. She longed to once again hear “Loving You” sung by Elvis Presley. There it was—the original record—in our hands, but no record player.

Discovering Linda’s father’s collection of more than 100 cassette tapes gave us not only insight into his music tastes but also a new understanding of him . . . and of life in the 30s, 40s, and 50s—101 Strings, Pete Fountain, Benny Goodman, Nat King Cole, Boogie Woogie, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra. . . .

In one cassette case were six tapes with handwritten titles: “Favorites #1,” “Favorites #2,” etc. We wondered what he might have been wearing and where he sat when he used two recorders to record those tapes of his favorite songs. Which songs did he record? His tape player was long gone.

In the garage we found a box of 16mm film containers and an ancient Arriflex 16mm film movie projector. Ah-ha! We had the media and the right projector. We opened the film reel boxes—sadly, all we found was crumbled film.

We spent hours and hours going through photos taken by her uncle, her mother, and her father. Her uncle had been a professional photographer and longtime PPA member. Early in his career his muse was my wife. His film work was amazing.

After five days of cleaning and sorting, we had eight boxes that contained things we wanted to take home and keep—four filled with family photographs and albums. As I looked at the photos I learned so much about Linda’s childhood and about her family.

When we got home, we carefully stored the photos, so those stories can reveal her family history—our family history—and so that those photos can do what prints have always done best: give future generations countless opportunities to easily look into our lives.

After Linda read this post she said:

“What is sad to me is that ever since you began shooting digitally (and taking so very many photos), we actually see and enjoy them less than when you took film to a camera store. Each time a roll of film was developed you had prints made, and over time many of them found their way into albums and frames. Your beautiful digital photos are now rarely seen as they sit on hard drives in mass quantities. If you look around the house, you find albums and prints that we enjoy every day. Most all of them were printed in the days when you used a film camera.”

Ouch!

The old adage “A shoebox of memories never fails” has never been clearer to us. Later, as we looked at our wedding album, we wondered what the future brings to brides and their children, who get a thumbdrive to preserve their wedding photos.

In a future post I will tell you about my grandfather’s album. It reveals why my Italian family name Giorgis was changed to Georges, why my father was a bit of a hoarder, why I was taught to eat all the food on my plate, and more. . .