Digital Photo Storage: Will Your Digital Treasures Ever Be Seen By Your Grandkids?

by Michael Boyter
(Wasilla, Alaska)

What Will Be The Prevailing Digital Photo Storage Format in 2061 and beyond?

What Will Be The Prevailing Digital Photo Storage Format in 2061 and beyond?

When it comes to your family’s digital photo storage, what are the odds that yours will ever survive and actually be seen by your grandchildren?


My initial answer was "of course they will", but the current issue of Scientific American magazine (May 2011) published a very thought-provoking article entitled "Seeing Forever: Storing Bits Isn't the Same as Preserving Them".

It really made me think.

In the article, author David Pogue states that while digital pictures and digital family videos are nice, we really should not expect the grand kids to ever see them!

Being a serial family archivist, he had my full attention. These sorts of articles always get my attention. I would like to think that my pictures, videos and digitized writings will last well beyond two generations from now.

I mean…come on! Otherwise why am I spending so much money and money taking, converting and storing all my family’s digital photos and videos?

Mr. Pogue, I believe, is on the right track in asking questions such as these. What file format are your pictures and videos in?

Will they be the standard format in 2041, for example? How about even 2061?

My wife, for years, purchased Disney video tapes (VHS) so our kids could enjoy them AND she, for the longest time, refused to get rid of them, telling me that she wanted to keep them for the grand kids, someday.

Well, as you might guess, our household has been without an actual VCR player for several years now. The Disney VHS tape collection eventually went bye-bye.

In the 80s my preferred method of taking pictures was 35mm slide film. That is the format that my dad and grandpa used for years. My kids have very seldom seen those pictures, from that era, because I no longer have a workable slide projector.

Does anyone, anymore?

So Mr. Pogue suggests that you, me, someone, will have to be ever vigilant of this dilemma of continually converting our family’s collection of digital valuables, about every ten years, to the newest format for digital storage.

Even thought digital storage devices are cheap and plentiful, the author asks realistically, how long have you ever kept the same hard drive? Speaking purely for myself, that answer is about 4 years.

It typically goes out with the older computer that I replace.

Then he says that we shouldn't feel too secure in the fact that we might use online backup to “safeguard” our digital treasures.

He mentions AOL XDrive which is no longer in business and that the online backup companies that promise to keep your digital information safe "forever" have not even been around 20 years....some for less than five years.

So can they really be counted on? I certainly hope so, but we should not be betting the farm on it. Let online backup services be just a part of your long-term plan for digital photo storage.

I enjoyed the article and Mr. Pogue raises some great questions. It is vital that we think on these questions and do what we can to preserve our digital pictures, videos and other priceless documents for posterity.

In the end though, I don’t think the world is not going to simply let all of the digital pictures and videos that we have ever shot just fall by the wayside.

I have to believe that there will always be some way (software) to convert from an older format to a newer format.

The digital format conversion market will be just too huge be ignored, no matter if it is today, tomorrow or 2061.


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Comments for Digital Photo Storage: Will Your Digital Treasures Ever Be Seen By Your Grandkids?

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Apr 15, 2011
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Family Photos Fom Birth to Death
by: Anonymous

The article does raise an interesting question but really fails to address the technology which is continually changing.The basic premise should really have focused upon the photo we want to save and why?

The point is not that my future children may want to view old family photos but you questioned could they? Of course,they could view all old photos. Your article never mentioned the numerous storage device available to the general public like removable hard drive. Flash drives that can hold family photos of every vacation from birth to death.

All this could easily be obsolete as you write in just a number of year with new technology. What ever comes next will be able to transfer your data into the newest format simply due to economics.

The desire to save your photos require companies to be responsive to you the consuming public that spend millions each year to provide consumers with the latest technology. photos/cameras/digital camera/ scanner/flash drive/tera byte hard drives/.....etc and it just continues on. We could also chat about format for photos from pic/jpeg/gif/etc..........

Apr 14, 2011
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Very Interesting
by: Anonymous

The points that you brought up were very interesting. Technology has really progressed extremely fast these past years.

I remember when I was young we used to have VHS, and then we moved onto DVDs and now Blu-rays.

I think that to counter-act the problem we can continuously convert our videos or pictures into the newest file formats. For example, you can convert your old VHS videos to DVDs and then when DVDs become obsolete, convert them to the newest file format, such as Blu-ray.

It may sound complicated but it is quite easy, I have done it. I know that this seems like a lot of work but it will be a good way to preserve our past memories and make sure that we never lose them.

Apr 14, 2011
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Interesting point
by: smkkms78

I think this article brings up an interesting point, that most of us fail to realize. Yes, it is true that the technology age is changing so quickly, that usually by the time we get use to something, there is something new out there.

It becomes the new normal and we are left with what? In my case, I currently have a music collection of 700+ CD?s. I have watched them become all but obsolete over the last several years and it pains me.

I was even whining about it to a friend earlier today! Of course, I have all my music stored on my iPod, but trust me, that took some work to get all that transferred though. When it comes down to it, I am still a fan of having something tangible and I will NEVER let go of my CD collection.

I fell the same is true of photos. While yes, I do have 100?s of photos in digital format, I personally create memory books using my most important photos (www.ReminiscenceReflections.com).

This way I have something tangible that is valued and can be passed down. It?s just a different world with technology today. We have to go with it and save our own little pieces of our old ways however we see fit.

Apr 14, 2011
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Love this article
by: Emelie

This is a topic I've been thinking alot about lately. Not only because our files may be obsolete in the future but because not as many people get to see our pictures anymore.

I know I stopped printing my pictures out shortly after I got my digital camera (about 4 years ago). I remember being so excited to get my prints back from the store and share them with all my relatives.

Now, all my pictures are stored on my hard drive and I share them with friends and family through Facebook. But what about the people who don't have Facebook or don't know how to work a computer (like my grandparents). They never get to see the great pictures.

Also, when you get older, will your grandkids want to go through your hard drive to see your family albums? We all know kids have a short attention span so probably not.

Another thing that sucks is that you can name the file (your picture) but what if your grandkids don't know the people in the picture?

In the "old days", you would usually label all the people in the picture with the date and location. It was easier to remember the story behind the picture if someone asked. That's a little harder with our new digital treasures.

Just my 2 cents...

Apr 14, 2011
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Technology Ever Moving Forward
by: A.S.

Being married to a Computer Science Masters student definitely makes me realize how quickly and how often technology is changing. Although we like to think that today we have the latest and greatest, we can't forget that tomorrow we will have something newer, bigger, smaller, faster, stronger, more unique.

Although I would love to believe that digital photographs will be around for a very long time, realistically, someone will come up with something even more fantastical and easy to use.

I'm personally not a fan of uploading my photos for "safe-keeping" onto any website. The author is correct in stating that at any point, this company could shut down and you could lose all of your precious photos.

For now, I think it's a safe bet to keep on taking those digital photos and saving them on your hard drive. Just be prepared to change all of those photos within the next decade!

Apr 14, 2011
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Digital Photos Priceless!!
by: Baumer

Being able to store your digital photos in a safe place is priceless. What if you have them all on your computer and it crashes. All the family photos you have are gone. That would be a bad situation for anyone.

My suggestion is that If you have any photos you really like or want to keep for sure, have them printed out. That way you have the actual picture and you can save your digital copy. Pictures are keepsakes from ones life and can be a tragedy to lose.

Apr 14, 2011
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Very good point!
by: Scott K

This is the first time that I've even considered this. I've always kind of thought that my photos being in digital format that future generations could click on the picture and see it just like we can. I think as human beings we tend to take the short view of things anyway (say 2-5 years) and thinking ten or twenty years down the road doesn't come naturally.

One thing I will say is that this generation has TOO MANY digital photos. You can go through and delete them off your hard drive and smart card but we have so much storage these days that it's kind of a pain. I suspect we take pic after pic after pic to get the right shot. In the past you would have just been wasting film.

Maybe the moral here is to develop a few photos you want future generations to see and put them in an album...

Apr 14, 2011
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Cloud Based
by: Anonymous

I think there's more of a push that's going towards cloud based storage services. Quite frankly, I think the idea of archiving digital memories on a physical medium may prove to not only be costly but not as timeless as digital memories archived online. Furthermore, I think talk of outdated file formats typically flies out the window when we start discussing the option of saving information online. Many commonly associated file types of images and videos are easily convertible to other existing file formats and given the fact that they may be stored online, most, if not all of the work could be done in front of a computer. So I don't think that some specific file types will be obsolete but rather will be easily recoverable and convertible to currently used file types.

Apr 14, 2011
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Saving Memories Takes Work
by: Sarah A

This article makes a great point! I've lost pictures and documents over the years through the process of losing discs, computers crashing, buying new hard drives and all my info didn't get transferred. It takes a consistent effort to keep all your family memories in tact.

In a way, I'm thinking I should go back to hard copy pictures in a photobook - then I can just put the book in a safe and call it a day. I actually upload all of my photos now and make picture books on the internet. That way I have digital and hard copies of everything.

But I'm also going to train one of my kids to take over for me - they can keep up with all the new technology better than I can.

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