Reaching Capacity in the Digital Age

If a picture's worth a thousand words, what are a thousand photos worth?



Illustration By Michele Melcher.

Watch this video,” I said to my wife. “Because I’m about to delete it.”

I handed her my phone, and she watched the 43-second clip of herself sliding our giddy infant son across the kitchen floor in his socks.

“No,” she said, handing the phone back to me.

The governor had spoken, and her message was clear. The video was to receive a full pardon, and would continue to live in my phone among countless other photos and videos of my beautiful children doing nothing in particular.

I resignedly closed the photo app, and my phone flashed a familiar message.

“Storage almost full.”

As if I was unaware! As if I hadn’t clicked out of that same message 100 times in the past few months.

The warning message continued—and I always read it in the scolding voice of that prim Star Wars android with the flailing arms.

“You can manage your storage in Settings.”

When I open them, there’s a colorful bar graph depicting the phone’s memory usage. I try not to dwell on the fact that the biggest chunk is a gray block labeled “Other.” Grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change, and so forth. The next biggest offenders are “Photos,” in yellow, and “Apps,” in red.

I’ve already deleted most of my apps. These days, I pull up my Twitter and Instagram feeds in the web browser, like a caveman. I’ve also unsubscribed from some enjoyable podcasts. This is all to eke out a few more megabytes of free space to be immediately filled with a burst photo of my daughter holding an unusually large leaf or jumping off a rock.

All these photos and videos are superfluous, I know—and cumbersome. My 16-gig phone is full. My 15 free Google Drive gigs are finished. My 256-gig laptop drive was nearly full. Then I spilled coffee on it, tragically— mercifully—zapping it out of existence.

I’ve stopped taking so many photos and videos these days, and there’s no small measure of relief in that. But the question remains of what to do with the collection I’ve already amassed. DVD-Rs once seemed like a good bet, and now they’re all packed away in attics, slowly degrading. So did all the USB thumb drives, full of my old “important” files, now scattered indiscriminately among the clutter in my junk drawer. Signing up for cloud storage seems like I’d just be creating a new, digital junk drawer with a monthly service fee.

There’s only one solution I can think of to clear out this crushing backlog of digital memories, and I hope Apple, Samsung, et al., will embrace it. Here is my idea: Get rid of the trash can. I can’t look at a photo or video of my kiddos and click a trash can icon. Can’t do it. So, just change the trash can to a little barn icon—let me click the barn to send my photos and videos to a nice farm upstate, where they’ll have all the space they need.

And I will, too.

Newtown Square’s Pete Kennedy also has a collection of very special rocks given to him by his kids during hikes.