Today I’m dusting off my proverbial soapbox to advocate for something that seems to have gone the way side of floppy disks and landlines. 

Photo albums. The tangible kind. Remember those?

Unlike floppy disks and landlines, they need to remain relevant. Unlike VCRs and payphones, there’s just no equivalent that’s taken the place of real photo albums.

Today, we upload photos to social media, save photo and video files to digital storage on hard drives and servers – all media that could easily vanish via file corruption.

And family photo albums should be preserved for the long haul – after all, that’s the entire purpose of painstakingly crafting these things, isn’t it?

Whose descendants will have access to the Facebook or other social media accounts of their ancestors when they want to cherish family memories?

Only a handful of years ago, tweets were for the birds and hashtags were musical sharp signs.

Mozart’s rolling over in his grave, for sure. So what makes us think that our current method of photo-sharing media will last beyond this current generation?

What lasts are physical albums. No software updates ever needed. Their tangibility far surpass any digital media that may not be available long term, forever.

We’re in a fascinating period in which a few generations of camera-toting families have now existed before us, forging a captivating timeline that connects us to our past. 

My husband’s grandmother passed away recently, and what emerged from the sadness felt were photos and scrapbooks for the family to share. Some photos reached further back to my husband’s great-grandparents’ generation, and I was fascinated to recognize family resemblances through the years.

His childhood home, first owned by his grandfather, then his parents, then us, was photographed so many times over the span of a half century and three generations. It was remarkable for me to note the same kitchen through the years with different people photographed, and changing curtains that depicted each decade’s fashion. The same front steps through the time had varying shrub sizes on either side. So much rich history in black and whites and Polaroids.

My own father also acquired a generations-old family photo album recently, and he was fascinated to see news clippings saved that included ancestral family mentions, with notes in margins written by a forefather or mother he’d likely never met.

I don’t have to tell you about the importance of documenting your family lineage, the history, the houses, the photos. You already know.

But we owe it to our future kin to continue the timeline trend. We can’t let our digital age let us lose sight of the importance of photos in print.

My family and I have begun to embrace minimalist themes; ridding our home of clutter, unworn clothing, items not sentimental enough to warrant the precious space they take up. 

But my exception to this is photo albums. They are our memories, bound together, linking our generations.

And today, they’re a heck of a lot cheaper to produce.

Printing photos is laughably inexpensive, accessible, and quick.

Non-millenials, you remember the once-heavier cost and wait time of printing photos in the past.

Those film canisters, those envelopes, and the couple days’ wait – for a mere 24 shots – when you didn’t expedite with the cost of one-hour photo.

What developed was candid, raw, unfiltered. You could argue it painted a more realistic portrait of life.

But if those same photos were blurry or overexposed, you only found out after you’d paid for their development.

Today, we have the ease of selecting which photos to print. They’re speedily uploaded to an online photo printing source that easily prints them for you. And fast.

After my youngest born babe’s Baptism celebration last fall, my mother printed several photos from her digital camera and gave them to us.

The pictures sat in an envelope for weeks until my oldest came across a half-filled photo album, and took it upon himself to fill the remainder with these photos. He did it quickly by my side at the kitchen table.

If creating a tangible photo album is a quick task for a first grader, then why am I not doing this myself?

The truth about creating these books is that for many, it’s not a question of cost but of time.

We should all resolve to occasionally print photos. We’re taking smartphone snapshots all the time, after all.

Albums don’t need to be ornately scrapbooked, but they should exist in some form.

Years from now, your descendants won’t care how you cobbled together your treasury of pictures.

They’ll just appreciate your efforts in making them accessible.

After all, your own generation likely appreciates the meticulous effort of your grandparents’ time to create these palpable memories for your family.

So don’t scrap scrapbooks; put it in print.

Make notes, describe the people and dates, the events and feelings, the smells and sounds.

Take a day or two off from sharing online posts with your social circle, and use these precious moments to share photos and notes with your descendants, instead.

After loved ones pass away, this allows their stories to continue. Your memory will fade, but printed pictures will stick around.

We may no longer use film these days.

But our memories are still developing.

— Michelle Cote is creative director of the Journal Tribune and a nationally-syndicated columnist. Rocking out to classics in her minivan with her husband and three sons is totally her jam. Contact her at [email protected]


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