Manage your memories

Gather

March 21, 2009 

Smile. Click. Ouch.

The ouch hits when thousands of Kodak moments proliferate and take over a cubic yard of your home's storage space. That happened at my house. Now those photos have covered my basement floor, forming a silver halide sea of my family's life.

This is my fault, but I prefer to blame Mitch Goldstone. He got me into this mess.

Goldstone owns ScanMyPhotos.com, a company that converts analog pictures (that's Russian for snapshot) into digital format. He's on a mission to convert the world's analog photos to digital, which is better for preserving memories, so no one will ever forget how stupid your hair looked in the 1980s. "We need to protect old photos from fading away, getting damaged, or lost through divorce." Goldstone estimates 31/2 trillion analog photos need digitizing. Two trillion are in my basement.

"I know I have to do this," I confess, "but it's so overwhelming."

"Send me your box," he says.

"It's not a box, as in, say, a shoebox," I explain. "It's a bathtub-sized plastic vat, so stuffed with photos that you need two people, or Vin Diesel, to lift it."

"Nothing I haven't seen before."

"Can I throw away the ones where I look fat?

"Please don't. People often throw away the shots they think they look funny in, but those are the best ones. Just send them all. It's easy."

It's not easy. It's mounds of work. But it is necessary. So I agree.

You have two kids?

Years ago, I tried sticking photos in albums. Then kids came along, and the blender speed of daily life went from chop to li quefy. No picture from the day my second child was born ever made it into an album, prompting the kids to believe we were in some witness protection program.

"Do we have a past?"

Now that I've committed to scan, I can stop feeling guilty about not creating adorable scrapbooks. Many far more competent women created these (some made one for each child!) while I was meeting a newspaper deadline or drinking, or both. You know those amazing scrapbooks where each picture is artfully displayed and captioned in calligraphy, where Johnny is holding a starfish, and the picture is cut in a star shape and the frame around the picture is a star. Some paste in the actual starfish. It just makes me feel so inadequate.

I also feel better knowing that for the last several years, our family photos are digital and most made their way to the computer, although a memory stick or two is at large, probably propping the short leg of a table somewhere.

I promised myself I'd get to my old photos some day, but every time I pictured myself scanning my photos, one at a time, I found something better to do, like count my dwindling eyebrow hairs.

When I learned that Goldstone's company would scan 1,000 photos for $50 (5 cents each), I had no more excuses. (I upgraded to a service that cost $125, which included the box, to and from Priority Mail, and scanning for up to 2,000 photos. That works out to about 6 cents a piece.)

Using the promise of manicures, I bribed both daughters to pitch in. We spent an entire evening, sorting through photos, laughing till our ribs detached.

"Look how young Dad looks!"

"Right, then you guys came along," I said.

"Mom, it's illegal to wear pants that high."

We got through maybe a third of the photos, and now my basement floor looks like one wall-to-wall glossy. We'll need to spend a couple more evenings sorting, laughing and, yes, purging. Because I don't care what Goldstone says, I'm throwing away the ones that make me look fat.

What to do

Before I was ready, the box arrived from Scan My Photos. It's sitting here reminding me there's no time to do this like the present. Here's what the pros say you need to know and do:

Convert memories that matter to digital. For those who have just woken from a 10-year coma, digital is the best way to store memories. It's more permanent than analog, takes less storage space (3,000 images fit on one DVD), and makes photos easier to retrieve, manipulate and copy.

Copy, copy, copy. It's cheap insurance. Copy the digitized photos to your hard drive, and then make a lot of back-up discs. Put one in your safe-deposit box, and send others to relatives, to keep discs safe from flood or fire.

Don't use rewritable disks for long-term digital storage. And don't label them with sticky labels or tape. Mark them with a Sharpie pen, and store in a cool dry place.

Get used to migration. Not the bird variety. Every 10 years or so you'll have to transfer your memories onto the next generation of storage. Even DVDs will decompose. We need to vigilantly manage -- love this term -- "data rot." Converting old photos to digital formats is a good start.

Let go. Yes, once you have your DVD backed up, you can toss negatives, duplicates, and, if you're really brave, the originals, leaving one less box of clutter.

As with any organizing system, getting started is the hard part. Once you have a photo management system, maintaining memories really is easy.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson can be reached at www.marnijameson.com.

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