There was a time when families had photo albums, a physical book that included photos from holidays, vacations, birthday parties and other special events. It was a way to remember the past.
Today, just about everyone who carries a mobile phone has the digital equivalent of the photo album and social media has made it so that photos are shared not just on special occasions, photos are shared constantly.
Instead of a large book that could hold a few hundred photos, our smartphones can hold thousands of photos, while a computer hard drive can hold literally thousands or more. That much space is needed because each and every day more and more people are taking photos all the time.
According to a Mary Meeker annual Internet Trends from 2014, people uploaded an average of 1.8 billion digital images every single day – or 657 billion photos. Just five years ago that meant that every two minutes humans were taking more photos than ever existed in total for the first 150 years of photography!
Current estimates are that 1 trillion photos were taken in 2018, and instead of a photo being worth a thousand words few are worth even mentioning. Photos have become so common that hardly any single image can capture our attention any longer.
This is because the images are shared with such regularity that photos have practically faded into the background.
However, younger people – notably those in Generation Z – are actually putting great effort into taking photos. According to data from digital photo frame maker Nixplay, which surveyed 2,003 people, 38% of respondents actually said they'd choose a vacation destination based on the "Instagrammability" that a location might offer, and nearly one-third said they'd go to great lengths to capture the "perfect photo." One selfie is rarely enough, as one quarter of respondents said they'd take four to six selfies to get "the one."
Most surprisingly the survey found that 50% of adults find selfies annoying, yet one in three will like a post from a friend or family member despite having little interest in the photo. In other words, people are being polite – like in the old days when someone would pull out a photo album!
One strange part of this comes as the number of actual cameras has been on the decline. According to the Camera and Imaging Products Association there were 121.5 digital cameras sold in 2010 – and that number fell to just around 13 million in the first half of 2016. Who needs an actual digital camera when every smartphone has a fairly decent camera?
Facebook and Instagram are huge factors in the decline of cameras. It is much easier to upload a photo directly from a phone via an app than it is to download to a computer and post online. This ease of ability to point, click and post has diminished the value of a photo.
Because of social media we're looking at the device not the world around us. Today the world has very much become a three-inch screen. And this is unlikely to change.
Just last year Facebook refined "Memories," the single place on the social network to reflect on the moments that were shared with family and friends and this included photos. At least this makes some of us view those old photos, but the sad fact is that because photos are so easy to take we're not only missing moments but hardly ever going back to those photos we did take.
It has been said that nothing goes away on social media and the past lives forever, but just try finding a photo from a birthday party or graduation that wasn't last week. Those from last month, last year or worse years ago can be terribly difficult to find.
For many users if their phone is lost so too are all the images. Apple iOS and Google Android do back up photos to the cloud, but good luck finding those images in many cases.
Even those who back up the photos on a PC risk a hard drive crash. In many cases people don't really worry about ensuring backups are made because of the volume in which photos are taken.
Then there is the fact that so many images are uploaded to the cloud via social media. Instagram, Flickr and Pinterest are filled with images, but so often the context of the image is lost even if the image does actually live forever.
More importantly the monetary value of photos is also lost today. Not only is the profession of photography a dying one, but the monetary value placed on photos is lost as well. This isn't just because of the volume of photos, but because fewer people respect anything resembling copyright or ownership of photos.
According to a study released earlier this year from Copytrack, the number of unlicensed images stolen every day hit 2.5 million in just a 12 month span from December 2017 to December 2018. That figure was derived from a total of some three billion images that were shared on the Internet daily.
It is hard to put a value on people's photos, but Copytrack estimated that the damages total in the neighborhood of $600 billion.
In many cases those selfies of someone on vacation probably didn't really have monetary value, but years ago a photo used to mean to something. The ability to take a photo was always akin to capturing a moment in time. Because photos are now so easily shared and distributed that moment seems less important.
Consider the days when one took a photo with a film camera. Even on a dream vacation most of us would a snap couple dozen photos at most. Each photo used to mean something, as we'd consider why we took it, where we stood and why we wanted to remember it.
Today, we can snap dozens of photos daily, shoot them across social media to our friends and followers, but the magic isn't the same. Instead of being worth a thousand words today's digital photos shared on social media are barely worth a smiley face emoji!
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