Periodically, a thought will just sort of bushwack me. Don't ask me where this one came from, but it hit me tonight as piloted the SS Suburban down I-435: Though our lives are more intricately intertwined and documented than any generation before us, most of us will be forgotten far more quickly than the generations before.
At least, that's what I think.
Most readers know that my dad passed away about twelve years ago. A number of times, I've found myself gathered with friends or family, sitting around a table and flipping through old family photographs. In those photographs, I see him smiling in his recliner (the time I gave him the mumps...). I see him bucking hay bales. I see him on horseback, on a tractor, and standing in a field of sunflowers. I see him holding Jackson when Jackson was less than two years old, and I see him standing with my mother at their 25th wedding anniversary. I see him in black and white, in kodachrome, and in those dorky little prints that gave you two small prints on one page. The point is that I see him, and can hand these photographs to the person on my left while I take a stack from the person on my right.
My children will never do this. "Why?", you ask? Because it is 2008, and there are only a handful of paper images of me that have been taken in the last decade. In fact, my most recent candid photograph that comes to mind is a dorky shot of my on my 30th birthday. I'm wearing an odd green shirt and a goofy cowboy hat. After that, the whole world went digital. The only exceptions that come readily to mind are a couple of weddings that I've done where I'm sure someone took pictures and printed them, and a photo shoot by Shelley Paulson. Other than that, all my images are 1's and 0's in a line that can be translated into a .jpg on a monitor somewhere. I'm sure that's not entirely accurate, but it seems to be more true than not.
Save the comment that says "Your kids will just flip through your digital photos like you flipped through snapshots of your dad...". Not necessarily. While photo processing techniques changed drastically during his lifetime, viewing those photos didn't change. We picked them up, looked at them, and sat them down. These photos spanned fifty years or so - but we looked at them the same way. No one in their right mind imagines that we'll be viewing .jpgs or .pdfs in iPhoto fifty years from now. The medium will change more quickly than our willingness to archive and the vast majority of those thousands of images on our computers will go to the landfill with our old hard drive.
So here we are...
We're more visible than any other people in history, and yet more susceptible to disappearing. In some ways, life is more fleeting for us than it was for our fathers.
All that matters is what we do while here on earth, because once we're gone, our images are fading faster than ever.