Wednesday, July 3, 2024

How Many Photos Are Enough?

From the time I was born, up to the age of 10, there were exactly nine photographs taken of me. Each one was in black-and-white, and they were spread out fairly evenly. There was one of me as a baby, one as a toddler, one as a young boy on a tricycle, and so on, up to the ninth photo, me as a buck-toothed 5th grader wearing what seemed to be an odd version of Capri pants. Actually, I had a growth spurt that year, but our family rule was: no new pants until the “back to school” sales at the end of August. So, I had to go an entire summer wearing “high-water pants” and getting sunburned shins.

Compare that to my four-year-old grandson, known as the “Rhode Island Wonder Boy™.” In the 48 months since his birth, there have been approximately 97,000 photos taken of him, along with over 1800 hours of video. I’m pretty sure in four short years he’s had his picture taken more often than the Beatles did from 1959 through 1970.

Every person the “RIWB™” knows — my daughter and son-in-law, each of his four grandparents, various aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc. — own smartphones with cameras. And these smartphones have multi-gigabyte storage capacities, so it is possible to record every moment of this young boy’s existence. We don’t do that, of course. Instead, we just record every OTHER moment of his existence.

This is not to say that each of those 97,000 photos and every minute of those 1800 hours of video have ever been viewed by anyone. We are all in the habit of taking zillions of pictures of the boy, but never actually doing anything with them once they’re stored on our phones. I suppose our plan is to have archeologists a thousand years from now unearth one of our phones and conclude that a particular young boy must’ve been crowned monarch of the nation, which required all of his court jesters to chronicle every move during his imperial reign.

Well, that’s not exactly correct. Some of those photos do see the light of day. The younger folks involved in this whole process — that is, those who weren’t around during the “black-and-white photos are the only option” days – are familiar with exotic wizardry such as Instagram and Snapchat. So, some images of the “RIWB™” are posted on these online platforms for others to view. But over 99% of the recorded images remain as unseen piles of zeros and ones in the memory chips of various smartphones.

Compare technology throughout the ages. George Washington never was photographed. It hadn’t been invented yet. Ol’ George had his portrait painted half a dozen times, and that was about it. Unless you were famous or wealthy, your image was never recorded for future generations. 

Then photography came into existence. If you were fortunate, maybe you’d be able to save up and have your picture taken — but only once in your entire life. If your eye twitched the moment the button was pressed, or if you were having a bad hair day, tough luck. That one image is how your descendants knew you for multiple generations.
So nowadays, billions of people worldwide, including a youngster in the Ocean State, are having their pictures taken more frequently than Marilyn Monroe ever did. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I have no idea. All I know is when a cute little boy says, “Papa, let’s go outside and play,” I grab my Red Sox hat and my phone, to make sure I record the delightful moments I’m about to have. Maybe someday when I’m in a nursing home, those images will be the one thing that makes me smile.

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