As we downsize more and more in life there’s one part of our important history that’s in danger of disappearing. Our photographs. And with them our memories, our history, our heritage.
Precious photo albums were once listed as the first thing most of us would grab in the case of a house fire, but when was the last time you printed photographs out and put them into one?
The changing face of photography, with digital cameras and online albums, has meant many of our photographs don’t even get printed. They get shared on social media, stored on our phones and computers… and then what?
Researchers from Edith Cowan University say the convenience of social media could come at a price, in more ways than one.
Researcher Dr Holloway, a senior lecturer with ECU’s School of Arts and Humanities, said using Facebook as a family photograph album might put the longevity of precious photographs at risk because stored data might not be as safe as you assume.
“Your account could be hacked, banned or someone might even hijack your password, meaning you no longer have access to your account,” Dr Holloway said.
“Also the terms and conditions of Facebook change every six months so ownership, storage or archiving rights might be reduced or taken away.
“On top of that, because Facebook now receives around 1 billion images per week the quality of the stored images are a real infrastructure problem. They use image compression so if you want to retrieve your photos at a later date they won’t be the same quality as they were before.”
Other forms of storage images also come at a risk. Digital hard-drives can fail, meaning you can lose entire photo collections all in one go, if you haven’t backed up onto multiple devices.
Printed images have their faults too. Not all inks are the same, with many fading after a short time, plus heat and water damage mean many will fade or disappear over time without the right preservation. How many photographs do you have from the 70s that have that lovely pink tone now?
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There’s also an issue with what we share online. While you might think an innocent photograph is just being seen by yourself and your friends, the reality is it can be seen by the whole world. Likes, shares and comments mean more people may see the image, and it’s pretty easy for someone to do a screenshot on your phone and reshare that photograph without any security measures you’ve set up yourself.
Dr Holloway said parents (and grandparents) are grappling with a new issue of disclosure management when they are deciding what to share online but they should consider their children’s digital footprint before they post.
“The move away from the hardcopy family album means parents now need to think carefully about what to post online and how they curate and present their children. Oversharing photos and details online can have ramifications for children in the future,” she said.
Dr Holloway said this is of particular concern for children who are too young to understand or consent and in some cases not even born yet, for example when ultrasound images are posted.
“It’s something for new mums to think about because we know that 98 per cent of new mothers are putting photos of their babies online. It’s a stage where using Facebook as a family photograph album really ramps up, with the first new baby in particular,” Dr Holloway said.
However Dr Holloway said most parents are good stewards of their children’s photographs.
“Most parents think carefully and cautiously about what to post and not to post. A lot of parents are asking their children about what they are happy for them to post and also allowing the child to choose the image. That’s especially important as children get older. They like to have that agency and sense of decision making on their own and not just have their parents showing everything to the world.”
The research, ‘Mediated memory making: The virtual family photograph album’ was recently published in The European Journal of Communication Research. It uses data from interviews with Australian children and their parents over the past four years as part of two Australian Research Council funded research projects investigating children, families and their internet use.