A Dad's View 22: Photos losing their magic?
Now that it's so easy to document our lives, Tom Dunmore wonders whether photos are losing their magic
I'm woken at 4.54am. There's a tiny silhouette in the bedroom doorway.
'Wanna... watch... sumfin,' it growls, looking like the demonic Chucky doll from the Eighties video nasty Child's Play. I reach for my weapon: an old iPad on the bedside table.
The creature approaches. 'WANNA... WATCH... SUMFIN.'
I frantically trace out the keycode to unlock the iPad and just have time to load an episode of Peppa Pig into the barrel before the little beast snatches it away from me. I heave a sigh of relief that turns into a snore halfway through. Sleep envelops me.
The blissful silence lasts for five seconds before the iPad lands on my face, screen down. A white box floats in the centre of the screen: 'STORAGE FULL.' The wailing commences. Wakey wakey.
Twenty minutes later I'm in the kitchen, my two-year-old placated by a mouthful of toast. Despite my syrupy tiredness, I've successfully switched to tech support mode – my comfort zone, my happy place. I can't be the only dad who fantasises about solving all parenting challenges with the old IT mantra: 'Have you tried turning it off and on again?'
Turns out it's not apps, movies or music that have filled it. It's the 15,000 family photos sucked down from the great big self-storage system in the sky. Every single smartphone snap is there in unflattering, high-definition glory.
There are some real gems: Erik falling asleep while eating, or spontaneously hugging his sister in the street; Ava and her mummy in a moment of staggering beauty at Pizza Express, the exact same enigmatic smile on their lips. There's all three of them, curled up asleep on the sofa with the cat on top. But finding them means flicking through endless snaps of scabby knees and blurry cat tails.
The problem is, whenever I take a picture it invariably goes like this:
'Daddy, can I take a picture?'
'Just say cheese, Ava.'
'Wanna take picture!'
'Look at the camera, Erik – don't grab it...' then it all descends into a bad Benny Hill sketch with the old man chasing his kids around while they press the shutter button as often as possible.
Last month was my parents' golden anniversary and to celebrate, I created a 'now' and 'then' photobook. Almost every one of the snaps from the Seventies was iconic: carefully posed to make the most of the precious film. We didn't look great – all pudding-basin haircuts and brown corduroy – but there was a magic about every shot.
It struck me that I only have about 30 pictures of my childhood. What's more, each one has a distinct 'memory' attached: a story that was told each time the shoebox of photos was opened. My parents could have told me anything – 'This one is
from our trip to Mars; that's when dad fought the beast of Bodmin' – and I'd swear to you now that I remembered each occasion clearly.
The opposite will be true for Ava and Erik: every dribble and step is documented and GPS-tagged. Instead of a shoebox, they'll have a data cloud stuffed with millions of pictures and mini-movies.
Their only hope is that they learn to create their own stories, to shape their own digital personas. To ruthlessly prune. Editing will be one of the greatest skills of the 21st century. And with that thought I delete every single image from the iPad, fire up Peppa Pig and head back to bed with boy under my arm, gurgling contentedly.