Don’t let your digital memories disappear

The way we were.
The way we were.
Image: Reuters/Eriko Sugita
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Last week, my father passed away. Since that painful day, my family has tried to find every photo him so that we can paint a full picture of the wonderful man he was. We’ve surfaced videos of him hugging Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, photos of him meeting former prime ministers and monarchs, and a trove of pictures from his childhood and life up until the mid-1990s. My family and friends have filled up a joint iCloud photo album of everything on our phones and computers that feature my dad.

But we noticed something surprising: there weren’t too many photos from the turn of the millennium until about 2010. What happened to that decade? Other family members and friends also remarked that they had a ton of photos from when I was young, and more recently, but not much in between.

I suspect the reason is because from the early 2000s until the prevalence of smartphones and cloud storage, most people generally captured memories on digital cameras. From about 2003 onwards, digital cameras quickly began to eclipse sales of analog cameras.

But people weren’t as careful with those early digital photos as they were with physical ones. We transferred shots onto computers or hard drives and thought that was enough. Before smartphones were ubiquitous and cloud-storage options became invisible and easy—like iCloud or Google photos auto-syncing images taken on smartphones—years worth of photos have been stuck on old devices or trapped in obsolete formats. I can’t find any photos of my dad at my graduation, when he was still sporting a BlackBerry, and my mom wasn’t even on a smartphone yet. My mom’s old computer only has photos going back to 2011, and my cloud storage seems to have started around the same time.

So, this is my advice: dust off those old external hard drives, memory cards, and USB sticks you have laying around and upload the contents somewhere you can access from any device. There are simple guides online how to do this, and I recommend Google Photos because it offers free and unlimited high-resolution storage of your photos.

If anyone ever comments on how many photos you take at special occasions, or just during daily life, remember that you don’t know what those moments may mean to you in the future. The most quotidian moments can take on a special meaning, and you should be able to treasure them at any time.