Legacy: Analog // Digital

I would rather leave behind an analog legacy than a digital one.

This was the beginning of a caption of a photo I posted on social media. The photo had been taken on a film camera from 1972, developed, and printed. That printed photo was then photographed on an iPhone and posted to Instagram.

The photograph was of me.

What was the purpose of that photo?

Is a photo taken so that it may be shared? So that it may be treasured? So that it may be kept in a drawer? Framed? Burned?

There’s a great deal of expense to film photography. Especially if you’re taking photos to post on Instagram. You can do that for free (providing you’ve paid a pretty sum for a smartphone.) But you’d need that smartphone whether you took the photo on film or not.

So what did I mean when I said, on Instagram, that I’d rather leave an analog legacy than a digital one?

I’d rather have a legacy, sure. And when the lights go out, and the electricity is gone, do I want the garments of my existence sitting on a dusty bookshelf or crammed in a drawer? Or do I want the lasting representations of me to disappear when the internet does?

I’d rather have a published book printed in a library that no one reads than an ebook that everybody reads.

But that sounds crazy. Every writer wants to be read. Every photographer wants recognition.

That’s why I’m writing on here. And that’s why I published my photo on Instagram.

But is that the proper response? I experience a great deal of tension here. I want to be read — but I also want to really write. I want my photos to be appreciated — but I want to really photograph. I don’t think we’ve found the best of both worlds yet.

The printed photo is Real. The physical artefact didn’t disappear because it was posted on Instagram. The legacy still exists. The photo wants to be shared, but it also wants to exist.

Nothing happens when someone taps my photograph twice with their finger. I don’t get a hit of dopamine. There’s no toxic feedback loop.

But something happens when someone sees my photograph. Holding it in their hand, a connection is formed. A relationship between the subject, the object, and the subject of that object. Perhaps it is only an idea. Perhaps this is too romantic — too idealistic — too nostalgic.

But I think there’s something here.

We’re pouring our lives into these digital universes, uploading our memories and sorting out, rating, following, and commodifying the memories of others.

Calling your long-distance partner is, “Oh, I saw you went to the park today! How did studying at that new coffee shop go? Was the drink as good as it looked in the picture?” Rather than “Tell me what you got up to today, I’d love to listen.”

Now, of course, this isn’t always true. But often it is.

Is it wrong to wonder what is being sacrificed along the way?

I think what I’ve written here only scratches the surface of a question unimaginably and frighteningly deep. I don’t think even I fully appreciate the idea I’m trying to access. But I hope that this article is my first of many walks through these woods, and that as I continually return to wander, more shall be revealed that is only observable to those who have looked many times before.²

I’d rather leave behind an analog legacy rather than a digital one.

I’d rather let my photos sit in a drawer than on a server.

I’d rather have my words gather dust in a forgotten corner of a dusty library than sit on a blog nobody reads.

I’d rather understand the process of putting my words on paper,

Or of capturing moments that can never repeat existentially.¹

I’d rather not lose access to my photos when I stop paying 99¢ a month for cloud storage.

I’d rather use the same camera for forty-seven years than have to update it every five.

I’d rather leave behind a real legacy … than no legacy at all.

  1. This line is inspired from the opening pages of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucidia.
  2. Please join me on this walk: respond with your thoughts below.

The truth is a trap … you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you. — Søren Kierkegaard, Journals.