Thursday, March 8, 2007

Progress or Subterfuge?
Ahh, progress, it has made our lives more comfortable, more informed, more convenient. Or has it?
To go way back, as a child I can recall spending time at my Great Grandmother’s farm where the phone was a wooden box on the wall with a receiver hanging on a hook on one side, a mouthpiece in front and a hand crank on the other side to alert the operator when one wanted to place a call. To get another party, you had to turn the crank to alert the operator who would connect you. Of course, many people were on the same line so if it was privacy you wanted, forget it. But it was a means of communication; better than sending a messenger on a horse.
Of course, back in the city we had a “modern” phone with a dial and for a little more money one could have their own private line! I can still recall my first phone number Parkway 2-8570 (which was later shortened to PA 2-8570 and then later PA was turned into numbers). The telephone has undergone changes over the years in size, weight and the ability to make an expensive call inexpensive. Of course, one had to upgrade but the choices made the justification of spending more money painless. After all, who would want to be caught with a big black phone with a cumbersome dial when they could have a sleek Princess with pushbuttons? Dick Tracy had a wrist-radio-phone type instrument and that was futuristic. We never imagined we would once own something similar. But then the age of cell phones arrived and now even people in remote places could have a phone and the ability to irritate, aggravate and communicate with others anywhere at anytime.
Now, my first job in an office introduced me to many new and wonderful inventions. Electric typewriters were replacing manual ones. The copy machine that had a light bulb and offensive chemicals were gradually being replaced by the great “Xerox” machine. A machine next to the receptionist telephone board was able to receive messages through the phone by converting bursts of signals upon a heat-sensitive cylinder which turned and by some miracle burned the message into a piece of specially treated paper. This could take some time and only short messages were sent. Again progress, the advent of the FAX machine. An adding machine (approximately 15” x 13”) with 10 rows of keys across and 10 rows down added groups of numbers, or could complete complex math and kept a running total by depressing the numbers and pulling a hand crank on the side. The machine was reduced to a smaller keyboard, electrically run and capable of doing even more complex mathematical functions. Progress moved on and we now carry a calculator with us about the size of one’s hand to perform the same duty. Of course with this machine the ability to add in our heads (at least the heads of younger people) is gone.

How many can remember 33 1/3rd records? These replaced the gramophone (of which I never was privy to) and these were replaced by 78’s which were replaced by 45’s which were replaced by tapes and then discs.

So, if you are following my train of thought, things got smaller, better, more efficient and all the old items were cast off or delegated to museums to be gawked over by people who had never seen or used them as we continued to buy new, improved products.

What I’m arriving at is a worry I have. Photographs. Photographs were once a rarity and an oddity. Early photographs were sepia in color, grainy and the people never smiled. This was improved by a box that anyone could own and which would produce a black and white photo. I still have my Kodak Brownie (well, actually 2 of them) which are displayed on my shelf and continually bring back a flood of memories. The Brownie, a bulky box, was reduced to a smart hand-held plastic box which took improved black and white photos. Ahh, the age of progress.

Then advancements in film were made thus offering the ability to capture photos in color! Cameras improved to the point of taking macro photos, panoramas, got rid of re-eye and all with a clarity that was heretofore unimaginable. Cameras became more chic in their design and the ability to loading film was made much easier.

But wait, digital appears on the scene! Wonder of wonders, a palm held camera taking quality photos and the added plus, one did not have to go to the drugstore/pharmacy to have one’s photos developed. One simply place the photos into their computer (another advancement) and they were stored on a floppy disc! Wow! Wait, the floppy disc could not hold many photos and a CD disc was created. Now we had something easy to carry around and a way to look at our photos at anytime, anywhere. Actual printed photographs were now obsolete and photos are now only occasionally printed as the discs do not take up a lot of storage space. Wonderful you say?

Well, think about it. I had a lot of old family photos that have disappeared over the years due to moving, storms or carelessness, but I still have many albums of fun filled photographs. Then I stored my photos on a floppy disc. That was wonderful except now I have no way of viewing them unless I spend a lot more money for an attachment to my computer to show them. I also have many, many discs filled with wonderful photos. I admit I had photos stored on my computer(s) rather than burn them onto a disc and discovered they were lost when the computer crashed, so now all my photos go to a disc.

But are discs are the ultimate way to store and your photos are there forever? Wait again. I recently tried to download two discs (of about 3 years in age) and my computer says they are blank. What happened to the photos? Where are they and how do I recover them?

Wait again. If we look back at progress and all it has come to, what it means is that some day my discs, too, will be obsolete and I will be unable to view all these magnificent photos without spending an inordinate amount of money to recapture them. So now I am worried that all my photos recorded on discs will disappear and never be enjoyed by others. Of course, I’m assuming that after I’m gone someone will actually be interested in that photo of the iguana on the clothesline, that group of unidentifiable people, those beautiful breathtaking scenes I captured with a few power lines running across the sky!

Nope, unless these photos are preserved in some sort of “pleasing” presentation and a story included about what brought them about and stored somewhere impenetrable, I’m afraid when I’m gone, my photos will end up as fuel for the fire, so to speak.

So, enjoy your photos now because sooner or later they will disappear. Have no fear, however, the whole process will continue on and the younger generation will have to deal with the problem.

Progress or subterfuge?

1 comment:

  1. Good points. It seems that nothing is really permanent anymore. I lost a hard drive, too, and didn't have backups of many things.

    Maybe our blogs will be a semi-permanent memory, but really there is nothing like flipping through an old photograph album.