You need to print your digital photos. Not next year, not when you have more free time—right now. I don’t care if your favorite dank memes are playing at the picture showhouse tonight (or whatever the kids are doing for fun these days). Start your first photobook tonight. It’s now or never. Your future self will be grateful. And the friends and relatives who will be digging through your shit after you die will be even more grateful.
I’m a big believer in deadtrees. Which is to say that simple acid-free paper is our best hope for preserving anything we want to keep for generations. I say this not as a Luddite, though I could be mistaken for one on a rough day. I say this as a 32-year-old who has hard drives that won’t boot and DVDs that won’t play. I say this as a weirdo who’s obsessed with time capsules and is constantly thinking about what will survive after we’re all dead and gone.
There are lots of options for printing your photos. My favorite method is creating photobooks. I printed my first photobook using Blurb back in 2006 and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it changed my life. Photobooks are literally the best presents for any holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries. They’re personal and they’re a lot easier to make than that ashtray you made your Dad in 2nd grade art class.
Obviously you don’t have to use Blurb. There are dozens of services for printing your photos in various ways. I’m only brand-loyal to Blurb for the same reason that tobacco companies have historically targeted kids with their advertising: Whatever brand you try first and like will probably be the brand you stick with for life.
You may be saying to yourself, ‘well I’ve got all my photos backed up in the cloud, so I have nothing to worry about,’ but allow me to present three reasons why relying on the cloud is shit:
1. The cloud can be hacked
Buzzfeed editor and Gizmodo alum Mat Honan learned this one the hard way, and he’s the reason that so many services now have 2-factor authentication. But, as so many unfortunate souls have learned, social engineering and human-intelligence still make any password-based system insecure. The cloud can be hacked. And your digital photos can disappear. Honan spoke with the person who hacked his account and they didn’t even have a reason to delete all his photos. They did it just because they felt like it.
2. Your favorite cloud-based service can just take your photos away for no reason
“The cloud” of course is a silly name for modern back-up services. Your files live on the servers of companies like Amazon, Apple, and Dropbox, and as such they can be deleted (accidentally or otherwise) in the blink of an eye. These companies are not infallible. Dropbox has sniffers looking for movies you might be sharing and will render those folders unshareable. Who’s to say your favorite cloud service won’t accidentally or intentionally delete your photos for some arbitrary reason? These things happen, and they’re done by companies as large as Google.
My wife lost access to movies and songs she purchased on iTunes when she moved from Australia to the United States. And even though that may not be a common problem, it certainly reminded us that unless you can hold it in your hand, you don’t really own it. Tech companies (especially ones like Amazon) have a history of just revoking digital products at will with little or no explanation.
3. Your favorite cloud-based service will disappear one day
This really is the most important one. You take it for granted that everything you’re using right now, from Facebook to iCloud to whatever is so massively popular with the tweenage set these days, will be around forever. But just because it’s dominant right now doesn’t mean it’s going to be around in five or ten or twenty years.
Facebook is perpetually 18 months out from becoming a ghost town. This fact is always hard to believe when a particular product is popular, but just look at Yahoo or MySpace or Hotmail or AOL or singing telegrams or pet rock singing telegrams or literally every technology and telecommunications company that has ever existed. All you need it a critical mass of teenagers to decide that Acme Social Media Company is cooler than Facebook and poof, things start to go downhill for Zuckerberg Industries pretty quickly. Social media users are fickle. Strike that, humans are fickle.
This is not unprecedented even in the world of photo services. Remember Everpix? It was a great photo storage utility with smart artificial intelligence features. Too bad it wasn’t making any money, and was forced to shut down.
If you trust any online service now instead of printing out your photos, you’re basically depending on your future self moving quickly enough to get your photos off that service and onto another cloud-based service that will crumble one day. Do you feel lucky? Do you really want to bank on your own hypothetical abundance of ambition and free time in the future?
The future is sooner than you think it is, and you run out of time faster than you’d like to admit. Remember all those photos you took with your flip-phone? Where are those now? Sure, they were pixelated and shitty, but they were memories. You took them for a reason. They were a part of your life. And now, if you’re anything like me, the vast majority of those are gone. Never printed, never shared beyond that tiny little RAZR you kept in your pocket.
As I mentioned, I really love photobooks. They’re a bit more spendy than just printing loose 4x6 inch photos, but even loose physical photos are better than keeping them digital. And you have no excuse. Retailers like Walgreens and CVS have apps that allow you to upload photos directly from your phone (and from Facebook and other services).
If you want to print your photos at home, be careful. Most paper that you’ll pick up at your average office supply store isn’t halfway decent and if you have an expensive color printer nice enough to print photos that will last 100 years you’re not reading this post. (You’re probably in a supervillain dungeon or some shit, because nice printers are fucking expensive.)
If you really want to get fancy, there’s no reason you have to stop at photos. Do you have generations of recipes sitting around? Put your ass in a chair, scan those things, and make a photobook. I’m sure your Mom would put that $25 gift card to Outback Steakhouse to good use, but imagine making a photobook of photos from her childhood or of your family’s recipe box? You can still buy her a Bloomin’ Onion to go if she’s really craving deep fried vegetables. But scanning and making a photobook of my mother’s recipe cards that included handwritten recipes from her mother and grandmother was one of the best things I ever did.
Print your photos now. At least get started. Pull the photos you took last year—however mundane or weird or dumb they might seem right now—and print at least a few dozen of them off in some fashion.
Relative to the vast span of human history, you’re going to be dead pretty soon. And I guarantee that the people who really loved you when you were alive are going to treasure your photos and photobooks more than most material things you’ve left in your wake. Start tonight. I promise that you won’t regret it.
Images: Screenshot from the 1957 Disneyland TV episode The Yellowstone Story; Photo of a photobook made by your humble bloggist