2015 looks like it’s shaping up to be the year that online cloud photo services all take a giant leapt forward. Just in the last few months alone, I’ve gone and dug up my ten-plus year photo archive from a rarely accessed backup drive (some 72 GB of files) and uploaded it to three different photo services.
First it was Dropbox, whose Carousel app promised to change everything. For $10/month, I can have all of the digitized photos I’ve ever taken all together. It changed how I access past events. Back in the day I might have taken 20 pictures and posted 2 to Flickr. The other 18 were for all intents inaccessible to me — on the backup drive that sits in a dusty drawer in my desk. Now I could look up some event on my public Flickr, remember the date, then head to Dropbox/Carousel to look through everything I took that day — all on my phone. Sometimes I’d even share the whole roll from that event to folks who were there.
But this was a two-step process. Flickr itself had boosted its storage space last year but it wasn’t until recently that they revealed a new Camera Roll and uploader that made this all work more seamlessly. So all my photos again went up there. Now I didn’t have to juggle between two apps.
Last week, Google finally (finally!) broke its photos from Google+ and the remnants of Picasa to give them their own home. It’s even more fabulous than Flickr and Dropbox, in that its search is so good as to feel like magic. People, places, and image subjects all can be accessed with the search speed that Google is known for. And this service is free and uploads old videos.
I’m constantly surprised how just how emotionally powerful an old photo or video can be (I waxed lyrically about this in Nostalgia Comes Early, written just before our last family vacation). This weekend I found a short clip from 2003 of my wife carrying our newborn in a backpack and citing how many times he had woken us up the night before. At the end she joked that she could guilt trip him in years to come by showing this video to him. Now the clip is something I can find, load, and play in a few seconds right from my ever-present phone.
So what I’ve noticed is this quick access to unshared photos is changing the nature of my cellphone photo-taking. I’m taking pictures that I never intend to share but that give me an establishing shot for a particular event: signs, driveway entrances, maps. Now that I have unlimited storage and a camera always within reach, I can use it as a quick log of even the most quotidian life events (MG Siegler recently wrote about The Power of the Screenshot, which is another way that quick and ubiquitous photo access is changing how and what we save.) With GPS coordinates and precise times, it’s especially useful. But the most profound effect is not the activity logging, but still the emotions release unlocking all-but-lost memories: remembering long-ago day trips and visits with old friends.