Your Shoebox VS. The Cloud

by Barrett

Old Shoebox Tech saved this 114-year-old photo of my great-grandfather.

I work with a few colleagues who are fond of conspiracy theories. It seems like a fun hobby for them. (To each his own.) They enjoy pointing out unsubstantiated facts that suggest a bumpy ride ahead. And they’re loving the whole 2012 thing.

While I’m not planning to move to a desert island any time soon, it does remind me about my own little worse case scenarios.

Here is one that occasionally keeps me up at night, especially after my toddler bangs on my computer keyboard a bit, while I’m trying to use it!

What if you woke up the next day to realize you’ve lost your complete digital family photo collection?
Not one picture from the 21st century.

The Shoebox
This nightmare didn’t existed in the old analog days.

Worse case scenario- the shoebox.

My parents had some family pictures from the ‘40s and ‘50s in a shoebox stuffed in the back of the closet.  Sure, the box got lost for years. But it wasn’t going anywhere. This practice borders on archival neglect, but it worked just fine.  Yes, these precious photos are a little faded and could be in better shape, but they’ve weathered the decades intact.  Most importantly, they still exist.

I was a little more organized than the shoebox strategy in my non-digital years. I developed my film, ordered the prints, and put my favorite photos in albums, which sit proudly on a shelf.

Then Y2K hit, and digital photography came to the masses. The computer meltdown we feared never appeared on 1/1/01, but I believe the legacy of that expected digital doomsday is alive and well today.

Back It Up
I think I snapped my last photo on film sometime in 2001.  Without negatives, I knew to back up the photo files and I did so with decent regularity.  (Remember Zip disks and how awesome it was that they could store a whopping 250 megs?!)

Then came CD storage, external hard drive back up, and consumer friendly tools like Time Machine.

Photo Shangri-La
For the next decade, technology offered amazing ways to share your pics. From email and online sharing to your smartphone and digital photo frame, the options were many. Today, your photos have no boundaries. What could be better than that?

So remember, all of your photos sit on your computer and are hopefully safely backed up. Maybe you’re using Apple’s Photo Stream for your most recent 1000 pictures.
And your favorites are also floating around digitally based on how you’ve decided to share them.

Where are most of your pictures not living?

On photo paper.

“Hold on,” you say in protest. You can print a photo any time you want.

Photo printing is available online or at the CVS down the street. You can get your photos in a day or an hour. The archaic practice of bringing in a roll of film for 3-5 day rush-developing is long gone.

But wait, there’s more…

The Double-Edged Sword of the Home Photo Printer
Doesn’t everyone have a printer now that can print a decent photo? Yes, I know ink cartridges are insanely expensive and clog up if you don’t use them every third day, but if you want, you can create a great hard copy of any of the thousands of pictures you’ve taken since the turn of the century…
… in 78 seconds.

Bam!  Isn’t technology wonderful?!

OK… here comes the big question:
How many hard copies of your digital photos do you actually possess?

Could you fit them all in a shoebox?

That’s the problem!
There are no more hard copies.
And here’s the ultimate irony- There is an inverse relationship between how easy it is to create a digital photo print and the number of times you’ve actually made one.

I’m sure there’s a bunch of you out there who would say,
“Good riddance. Who needs useless hard copies?”
They’re redundant and expensive. The digital versions are free and always accessible. You can back them up to the Cloud… to Flickr… they exist everywhere. They are infinitely backed up. Your priceless photos couldn’t be safer.

I hear a knock-knock at the door.
My conspiracy friends have come by for dinner.

Your Photo Library’s’ Last Meal?
Let’s review the menu…

The Obligatory Appetizer – You Eat Too Much.
People take too many pictures.
Once you buy the memory card, you’re set for infinity. Then it’s all free.
Some of these shots are great. Many are good. Plenty are just okay.
Chances are you’re holding onto all of them. Who’s got time to delete the marginal shots?

The Scary Main Course – Got any TUMS?
Your best photos are getting lost in the quagmire of your photo glut.
Unless you can devote some serious time on a regular basis to organizing your photos, many of the ones that really matter will eventually be lost, like that email that disappears behind your next 500 messages. Time is your enemy.

Yes, there’s the instant gratification of posting pictures on your Facebook page or Flickr account.
Yes, they’ll always be there, (maybe).
But no, the problem isn’t solved.
Over time, your virtual photo archive will just gell into a costly, unviewable mess. And with all your thousands of pics, the Cloud doesn’t stay free for long.

Plus, nobody wants to be subjected to all these pictures, and without some organization, neither will you.

The Healthy Dessert – Your Meal is Saved!
I say, “Sign Up Here to Get Organized!”
Print an annual photo book of your life.

Let’s face it. Every photo is not worth existing in corporeal form. But I think it’s critical to print out your favorite photos every year. Sure, you can do it the old-fashioned way by placing hard copies into an album, but I shudder at the time suck. (Anyone out there still doing scrapbooks?)

The simple solution is a photo book constructed via the Web.
It’s the perfect marriage of new tech and old-fashioned wisdom.

There are lots of services that let you build a photo book right from your computer. These gorgeous, coffee table-ready books aren’t cheap, and that’s actually a good thing. It forces you to be selective as to which photos to include. Remember, nobody wants to be overwhelmed with too many pictures.   And don’t be lured into creating lots of full-page images.
You quickly burn through pages that way.

Here are a couple options:

Apple’s Photo Books
It’s super convenient, because it’s integrated into Apple’s iPhoto and Aperture, and you’ve got immediate access to all your pictures without having to upload them.
The cost starts at $29.99 for a 20 page 8.5” x 11” hardcover book and 99 cents for each additional page up to 100.
This is the service I use. And for full disclosure, I’ve pushed up to that 100-page limit for my annual books. (Like you, I take a lot of photos in a year!)

The 8” x 11” hard cover photo book starts at $34.99. Each additional page is $1 with a 101-page limit.

So there you have it!  Go activate your own micro publishing empire!
Each year, spend a little time and create one of these books.
It’s really a no brainer.

The Unexpected Aperitif – The Goodness Continues
But wait. There’s more! Through this process, you’ve also digitally collected your best-of-the-best pictures for the year. Take those files, burn a few disks, upload them to the Cloud, and maybe even throw them on a thumb drive for safe keeping.

And where are you going to put that thumb drive?
Here’s a thought…  Got a shoebox?