Modern Photography Is Changing How We Remember Our Lives
Our shared photographs now create nostalgia in real time
I remember, as a child, pulling my grandmother’s yellowed Polaroids from the dusty shoebox I’d found high up in her closet. That afternoon, we sat next to each other on the couch, pulling old photos from the box one by one.
Although she couldn’t recall exactly where and when each one was taken, every photo triggered a story. My grandmother brought the images to life. We laughed and we cried as she relived every picture, and I learned more about her than I’d ever known before. In the late-evening glow, I watched my grandmother’s hands shake as she reluctantly set each print back into the shoebox.
Photography has drastically changed since then. Today, the moment has hardly passed before it is seen by someone many miles away, someone we might not even know. Our photos can speak instantly to the world, and our reminiscence happens in real time.
The story of the modern camera is interwoven with our need to create, record, and remember. The camera began redefining nostalgia in 1888, when Kodak released a small and simple personal camera for amateurs: “You press the button, we do the rest.” The camera quickly became indispensable for recording and curating our lives. Precious moments were made into keepsakes, while moments we no longer wished to remember were discarded. Film photography peaked in 1999. That year, consumers around the world took 80 billion photos.
Ubiquitous smartphones with their built-in cameras have, for the past decade, helped us produce more photographs than ever before. An estimated 1.2 trillion photos were taken in 2017, and more than 3 billion images were shared across social media every day.
Our photos can speak instantly to the world, and our reminiscence happens in real time.
Few could have foreseen that our relationship with photography would become so intimate. The obsessive recording of our lives even seems to affect how we experience and remember the world. We see more moments through the camera, and we spend even more time looking at our phones, watching the…