Lets Get Physical

So, its something that’s been eating away at me for some time and it seems like I’m not the only one with several eminent galleries announcing that for the sake of posterity all of their digital images are to be stored as physical images. At first this sounds like madness with hard copy documents all being subject to the harsh world of the physical; Fire, damp, dirt, degradation, expense of storage space not to mention theft and any other amount of physical damage that may occur. This is however a very short term view, true; that photo stored on an array of local devices backed up on a server half way across the world with highly documented  recovery procedures spanning political and geographical borders seems on the face of it fairly safe… I mean, no one has ever irretrievably lost data like this except… they have haven’t they? Just ask the Inland Revenue! Still, balance of probability and given a certain amount of intelligence; that data will be safe as houses at least for a short period of time.

And then that term reverberates through my mind, safe as houses… Houses ARE SAFE because they are strongly based in the physical world. Anchored in reality through concrete foundations in a world in which the pure physics of interactivity just does not change. Gravity works and is constant, not constantly changing. We don’t suddenly find that our hands are no longer compatible with doors and so we can no longer enter the house, nor do we find that bricks suddenly become invisible and offer no resistance to burglars just because we fit new windows. The same is to a large degree also true of software, however there is a fundamental difference which underlies this… the landscape or Eco-system of computers changes at a rate that is far from geological so the physics of the ‘known universe’ changes with alarming speed. This of course means that some of the lesser known file formats appear and disappear within a matter of a few years and the means to read them disappear within a generation. Now, How safe is your data? That data spread around the globe, backed up in nuclear blast resistant silos. The answer is of course, still totally safe but completely inaccessible!. Now extrapolate this position over a century or two with priceless pieces of art and you can see why these galleries don’t want to entrust the Monets and Rothkos of today to the digital world. They are just too valuable to be entrusted to the transient world of software and computers.

My own situation is slightly different though not unconnected, my problem is what happens when your amazing photography collection is up there in the cloud on Facebook/Instagram/iCloud etc. The answer is of course… Nothing, it gets largely forgotten about. Sure if you suddenly remember you need a photograph of some event or such you go and look for it, generally spending hours to do so as you don’t know which album it was in. But how often does anyone as a family sit around  the computer screen cooing and ahhing at cute photographs of back in the day. I would imagine that for others just like myself it never happens. This is a shame, especially when you  now consider that there are probably far more photographs being taken at this time than ever before with every family having not just one photographic device within the household but many. I know that within our ‘creaking at the seams’ house there are around 20-25 digital cameras of differing types what with iPhones, iPads, Bridge cameras and compacts. There is never a day when photos are not taken and yet these photographs end up in a public silo safe, but never really employed or enjoyed; whole family events backed up in every crevice of the world for maximum availability but only viewed infrequently by one person browsing an album if even that happens. Why? I guess a part of the issues is that the quality of these photographs is maybe not in direct proportion to the quantity. They capture a moment sure, but maybe we are just bombarded with sheer number and due to the fact that absolutely EVERYTHING gets saved they have lost their ‘specialness’ or at least they get tarnished with the brush of all the awful and substandard photos we take. Except, photographs haven’t lost their appeal, as can be proven when one family member stumbles upon a photograph album… within 10 minutes it has become a family event that can last hours, at least it does in our house!

So why this media gap? You could argue that the ease of capture has devalued our experience with the finished media, that the sheer volume turns us off ever browsing our extensive archives or that we are just not selective enough with what we choose to keep, with what we regard as special. My own feeling? We just like and interact with physical things more positively, we feel involved not detached from them. We can’t zoom the image, change it, alter the colour or airbrush the things we don’t like; we fight over who has the best view of the album and we all hang off each other generally being very invasive of personal space and yet we get far more enjoyment out of these experiences than our full screen fully interactive sterile digital albums.

Maybe not what you expect a software developer to say….Lets get Physical? Hell Yes!