Friday, October 02, 2009

Photo sharing – a vast generation gap

My son’s 5/6th grade camping outing was about done, so I offered to do a class picture. They lined up well, and I zipped off about 15 shots with my fancy Canon lens and dSLR.

Then all the kids ran forward, asking for pictures to be put on their camera. I know the teacher wanted to get going, so I declined. After all, it would be easy to share my fancy picture.

I knew as I said it that I was wrong, but I didn’t know I was twice wrong.

Firstly, I was wrong because I’ve had lots of personal experience that photo sharing doesn’t work – with the one exception of Facebook. I’ve put thousands of photos on Picasa, SmugMug and my own servers, but I think the vast majority have been neglected. Very few, if any, have ever been downloaded for personal storage.

There are too many hurdles for traditional image sharing to work. Only geeks like me can manage downloading images and storing them in photo libraries. Beyond the software issues, a surprising number of families have barely functional computers (XP virus infested typically) and either no net service or one that’s effectively out of order. Lastly, there’s a personal element to acquiring an image – a sense of ownership and obligation that a shared image lacks.

Facebook is different – images I share there are viewed – but only by Facebook users. Very few of the parents or teachers of our 5th and 6th graders do Facebook.

I knew that much, but it wasn’t until the bus ride home that I learned there was another dimension of incomprehension.

I watched a 5th/6th grade girl share her pictures. She held up her camera for all to view. Not surprising, except these weren’t pictures from the camping trip. She had what seemed like years of pictures on her camera. She flipped through her camera album as though she was playing the piano, effortlessly zooming, panning, and navigating a large image collection.

For her, her camera was the photo library and the camera back was her display. She can’t do anything with a shared digital image – except perhaps take a picture of the screen displaying it.

I wonder what she does when she finally hits image 2,000 or so, and fills her 4GB SD card? Probably deletes those she’s less interested in, gradually evolving a set of 2,000 very high value images.

No backups of course, but this generation seems comfortable with ephemera.

Next time, I won’t pretend anyone else will be able to use my picture.

* They seem nothing like 5th grade boys. “Mainstreaming” special needs children is relatively straightforward compared to educating boys and girls together.

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