We ended up yesterday, after all the hoopla was over at the 81st Photographica Show, with a table full of stuff that had no economic value to anyone. This we knew because it was offered free of charge to anyone who wanted it- for hours, and yet it was still here–unloved and untaken–at the end of the day. All of it and much more had been there for two days, but with a price attached which, though a small price, still involved someone trading hard cash for the doo-dad of their dreams. This stuff that was left was worthless.
Really? Worthless or simply no longer valued or able to be priced?
Take one class of thing among many: a camcorder set-up, complete with case, battery, charger, cords, etc., complete with instruction manual. It could be a Sony, a JVC, a Sharp… they were all here, in number. Probably most of them still worked as they had a few years ago, when they were brought home from the store, the latest installment on a plan to make life more interesting, more fulfilling, more complete for whomever bought them. There was, no doubt, great joy in the sight of them to each of their owners. But times changed, and the VHS, Mini-VHS, 8mm, Hi-8, Mini-DV world that they represent became yesterday’s news. Now they had come out of the back closet to be “donated” to PHSNE and the dollar table, and, times now being what they are, nobody wants them. The old formats just don’t make it, and the turnover of styles, formats, sizes is relentless and ongoing.
Whatever you buy is already the stuff of yesterday, you just don’t think about that when you want it.
Surely these objects still have intrinsic value. They are functional, for the most part, and even appear to be new. What they don’t have is currency. On the materials level, they are often recyclable, or partly so, but that requires work. Metals, plastics, rechargeable batteries can all be brought to the proper places and sent back on the great wheel of use and re-use, but most won’t be going that way.
If they were ever used at all, they had value as tools of family history, of artistic expression, of communication, of documentation. They were worth the price paid for them, or so we thought. Each one of these things may well have been worth quite a lot to the people who owned and used them. And now, squirreled away in that same closets that served as homes for these machines, there may be piles of cassettes, repositories of the images and stories collected. Data, information, memory, history, art…all waiting to be transferred to another format, another repository; perhaps one less physical, even less present in space if not in time- the cloud. Or not. Perhaps, realizing too late that these tapes are not viable anymore, the owners will simply dump them (and their contained information) as unimportant; without value.
I am no less guilty of this wholesale buying and dumping than anyone else, but the sight of all this stuff did give me pause. Are we valuing the wrong things or have we simply been caught on the bleeding edge of technology issue, in that the pace of change means that we are always going to be behind the times and trading up to stay current in the tools we use and the way we communicate? As price goes down (think of the cost of computer memory over the last ten years) and the availability of options for capture and storage of memories becomes ever broader, shouldn’t we be just a bit more discerning? Shouldn’t we find a simpler way to keep what is worth keeping, what we value, regardless of the price?
I happen to like silver gelatin photographic prints on paper for many of my memories, but I know that this is a limited solution. They certainly stand the test of time, and have no need for translation or format shift (though I do scan and save for easy sharing of the images), but they are often inconveniently located (not on my phone) and they take up lots of room and have to be stored. Maybe it’s true that for much of the stuff we like to keep, paper images won’t cut it, but while I can, I’m making use of that old school technology to make memories, and having fun doing it.