Is it time for the photo album to die?


The idea of organizing photos by hand into online albums is passé. It’s a concept that’s a holdover from a time when our photo collections were in physical format, and therefore more limited. That’s long since changed thanks to an explosion of smartphones, allowing us to now continually record our lives through photo and video.

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch, 2013

Is it time for photo albums to die? TechCrunch seems to think so. It’s Time For The Concept Of “Photo Albums” To Die. Everpix Debuts What Comes Next highlights their version of the future. It is filled with smart phones and photo organization software.

I hope TechCrunch is wrong, because if they are right, today’s memories will become the Digital Dark Ages. The Digital Dark Ages will happen to memories that live only online, in a smart phone or on a computer. It is unavoidable. Digital memories are vulnerable to computer hardware failure, obsolete software, and neglect. To expect these records to survive is simply arrogance. Paper records, on the other hand, require no maintenance and have survived for millennia.

The Dark Ages refer to the time period between the sixth and tenth or eleventh centuries, when a scarcity of historical records contributes uncertainty  to events during this time. Although, the scholars may debate the exact time period for the Dark Ages, there is no denying the failure of society to evolve, grow, and develop during this time period. Not until the Renaissance did science again advance and culture begin to flourish.

While I don’t think we will ever truly repeat the Dark Ages, the perilous nature of digital information remains, unless we take steps to address it. Fortunately, the simplest solution is also the most effective. Printed copies of important memories, preferably printed with durable inks on high quality paper, are the ones that will last.

So, go ahead. Consume a few trees. The future will thank you.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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18 Responses to Is it time for the photo album to die?

  1. Gretchen says:

    No, no, no! I don’t believe the photo album should die. So often after a disaster (hurricane, tornado, earthquake) there is almost always a story about someone finding a photo or an album in the rubble. How often do digital memories survive a disaster? Digital mediums are dependent on electricity, batteries, cell phone towers, and internet connections to access. An album does not depend on those things. Long live albums and photos printed on good quality photo paper!

  2. Laura Maguire says:

    Well said, Mark Mizen!

  3. Pam Russell says:

    I absolutely agree with you that it’s imperative to print photos for them to survive. Clouds do evaporate.

  4. Nicole says:

    Technology always becomes obsolete. The human eye does not.

  5. VB says:

    Thanks for the article. However this story is only pointing out one aspect – longevity of memories. There are other issues with being all digital – user experience (touch is an example), picking up a random album from a shelf and instantly re-living the memories (what is the digital equivalent? Endless and pointless browsing and clicking?) and many more. No, digital images substitute quantity with quality and digital images are mere records, not memories. And I am a computer expert completely loathing digital technology.

  6. Lisa Siverns-LeClair says:

    For me pictures on a screen will never replace a physical album or scrapbook. Technology changes and hard drives crash, phones are replaced, misplaced, stolen or lost and all those memories are gone with them.

  7. Barbi says:

    Interesting to read the comments on the Everpix site after the article. There are a few pro but a lot of predictions of how they will fail along with the others in the past.

  8. This actually scares me becuase I already see people not gathering their photos in one place but leaving them scattered about on different digital devices.

  9. Louanna says:

    After just witnessing my brother lose his wife of 64 years and the comfort it gave him on the day of her death to sit and look through “physical” albums it will be to our downfall to allow this completed albums to die. There is something about hiding the book and turning the pages that five us comfort!!!!

  10. I remember when computers first came into the office environment and everyone said it will eliminate paper. It didn’t, it made it worse. I think the same thing will happen now with the digital photo revolution. I do have my printed photos scanned and my digital images printed for back up. Should my house burn down I will be able to reproduce the albums and photo books contained there in. They might not be the same as the 100 year old originals, but digital is a good back up for prints.

    My boys always go for the printed photos or photo book before looking on the computer. They love playing with photos on the iPad, but that is different than the remembering and conversations that happen over printed images.

  11. I recently helped with others to seach for photo/printed albums after the Moore, OK tornado. We picked over 1000 printed personal memories in 6 hrs. Notice I did not say we picked flash drives, hard drives, or cameras. None of those were found.

  12. Hockeylvrs says:

    Although most of my pictures start put on digital form, I always select and print the best ones from the massive amounts that i take for each occasion to put into photo albums. Traditional photo albums almost always include journaling and memorabilia associated with the printed photographs. Looking at handwritten notes brings special memories to life that can’t easily be replaced in digital format. Our 26 year old son loves coming home and looking through the albums and even prefers the scrapbook style over the digital print books because they seem much more personal! When I give photo albums to friends and family as gifts, they always tell me it means the world to them to have these special memories preserved.

  13. Christina says:

    Thankfully it’s not either/or. Printed photos are easily lost and ruined as well, and harder to share with multiple people. I think the more important point is to record the where’s and who’s of the photos, either digital or printed. Family pictures from two generations ago are useless if you don’t know who they are and what the picture is of (event/place/trip/etc). Use tags on digital photos! Mark the back of photos and label your albums!

  14. Jan Vomacka says:

    Well said Mark. I agree – technology has bit us in the behind before with upgrades-updates-disappearing acts-and hardware failure! The nature of people is not to keep updating their archives to ensure continued compatability with new technology. And today, the technology changes faster than ever!!

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