Opinion

Time to invest in a rainy day tin

by
October 13, 2017

This World War I photo of Aussie diggers and French children was found among a collection of old photos in a biscuit tin in a shed at Tragowel, Victoria, in 2009. Would they still be here if they were on social media? Picture: courtesy Bendigo Art Gallery

When I was small it rained a lot because I lived in Wales and summer was on Thursday afternoon from 2pm to 4.30pm.

Because there was no Facebook or Instagram or junior pilates classes we used to cry with boredom and were often reduced to chasing flies in the backyard or playing Germans and British with sharp sticks.

I remember once burying several sixpences in the garden and returning three days later to find them and pretend I was George from Five On A Treasure Island.

I even brought a bottle of orange pop with me and talked to my dog while I was digging.

When it wasn’t Thursday and we had to stay indoors because of the rain, my mum would get out the ‘rainy day tin’.

This was a McVitie’s Digestive biscuit tin packed to the lid with old black and white photographs of long-dead great aunts and uncles with funny hats and nameless people standing on doorsteps with their dogs, or twice-removed cousins who had moved to Canada to escape the war and probably the dogs.

There were also blurry photos of dogs and cars with men in baggy Oxford leaning on the bonnet.

Then there were babies — babies in prams with huge wheels, babies wrapped in six layers of crocheted shawls and babies on the shoulders of uncomfortable-looking pale men on beaches.

You might think this would be a crushingly tedious pastime for an eight-year-old boy used to the excitement of chasing flies and fighting Germans, but you’d be wrong.

I loved those old photos because they brought that shadowed and strange foreign country of the past into the light-bulb present.

These were the faces of people either on the cusp of war or living through the turmoil of history and I found it enthralling.

As a bonus, these old Box Brownie photos developed in chemicals from Kodak film, showed me I belonged to a vast human family whose lives were marked with the rituals of weddings and births and deaths and parties and sunshine long before I was born.

They were evidence that the stream of life in which I was so immersed, had all happened before, and that I was just being borne along by the same current.

People connected to me had laughed and cried and felt nervous and curious long before me.

I still have many of the old rainy day tin photos, but the tin itself has been carried away to a forgotten shore.

Today, the milestones of family life are shared instantly on Facebook and Instagram, which is a wonderful thing, but I do wonder about their longevity and whether we will still have access to them in 60 years’ time.

People are now outsourcing to social networking sites the creating, curating, sharing and archiving of their family memories.

New research published this week by Perth’s Edith Cowan University said Facebook now receives more than one billion images a week, which is placing big strains on the infrastructure of storage.

Image compression means the quality of what you put in, might not necessarily be the same quality you get out.

Then there’s the safety issue.

Using Facebook as a family photograph album might put the future of your precious memories at risk because stored data might not be as safe as you assume.

Files can be hacked or hijacked, platforms banned or computers damaged.

On top of that — who really owns your pictures?

The terms and conditions of Facebook seem to quietly change every six months so ownership, storage or archiving rights could be taken away with the swipe of a finger.

I reckon it’s time to bring precious memories into the real world and put them in your own rainy day tin.

John Lewis is the News’ chief of staff.

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