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Preserving Important Summer Memories


Frankly, the best family media available are the ones you can make yourself. When I first began writing on this topic two decades ago, a video camera was still a relatively exotic device. It also provided the user with a great upper arm workout! Now virtually every home in the nation has one of these, and if you are nodding your head ďNoĒ to this statement, did you remember your cell phone?


More than ever before in recorded history, history is being recorded... and for the most part itís ordinary people like you and I who are pushing the button on a multitude of devices and capturing both still and video images.


While I have no factual evidence, Iím sure for those of us living in the Northern hemisphere, summertime is probably one of the most prolific photography seasons. Chances are you filled up a few memory cards worth of your kids frolicking at the beach, in the pool, or a variety of other locations. But now that things have settled down, what have you done with those priceless images?


Unfortunately many people think once a picture is tucked inside a memory card, it is safe forever. While itís true that these little magic devices are far more durable than film (just ask my parents what happened after a curious little Rodney wanted to see what was inside the family camera), they still have their limits and itís best to get your photos off of the cards and on to other media.


First, the primary problem with digital photos and videos is there is only one copy in existence once they are recorded. This was also true with old-fashioned negative film, but once the complete roll was developed, you had your negatives and the prints that were made from them, essentially giving you two copies of your images. Today many people are content previewing their images on their digital camera screen.


That can create issues if something happens as it did to one friend of mine whose camera ďhiccuppedĒ and rendered her memory card useless. When I asked her when was the last time she dumped her photos to her computer hard drive, she looked at me blankly and admitted it had never been done. She owned the camera for close to two years! Fortunately, using some software, I was able to recover many of her photos, but some were lost and the process isnít fail proof.


Again, unlike the days of film, a memory card can hold hundreds or even thousands of photos. Acquiring a habit of frequently transferring them to your computer is a great first step. But this isnít the end of the process, as most people immediately erase their memory card and stick it back in the camera to take more pictures. Of course thatís a good thing to do and why we enjoy digital photography so much -- itís cheap compared to film. However, now you still only have one copy of your pictures and that copy is even more precarious than when they were on your memory card!


Photos on your hard drive are prone to being lost to viruses, accidental deletion or the mechanical hard drive deciding it simply isnít going to spin any longer. Thus the next step is to create at least one backup copy. If you are already backing up your entire computer hard drive with an external hard drive and backup software, you are already taking this second important step. But you may want to go up one more level on the ladder of data security and create what the experts call, an off-site backup.


This is really easy and inexpensive if you use blank DVD disks. Virtually every computer built in the last while can burn DVDs -- and Iím not talking about making copies of Hollywood movies. These disks are also great for storing data, and thatís just what your photos are -- lots of data. One disk stores a little more than 4 gigabytes, a popular memory card size. While that was a ton of memory a few years back, itís getting to be less today. However, you can buy these disks in bulk, and they will only cost you a few cents each. After you burn them, put them in an inexpensive book made to hold CD or DVD disks and label them according to the date or event the photos cover.


The next step (that is often the most inconvenient) is to hand this collection of disks to someone else to keep in their home. That way if anything were to happen to your own copy, you have an off-site backup of your important memories.


Another way to accomplish this is to use an online backup service. Various companies that do this abound on the Internet -- some of which specialize in photo storage. The plus side to this is you donít have to buy disks and worry about giving them to someone else, and then having to add to the collection later. The downsides are that you will likely have to pay to store much more than a few gigabytes of photos, most Internet connections are much slower going ďupĒ than ďdownĒ (meaning it takes longer to send data than to receive it), and there is a chance the company storing your photos may go out of business. At the very least, I would still recommend keeping backups at your home. The chances of a fire at your home and your storage company going bankrupt the same week are slim.


A couple of additional thoughts to make your life easier: Instead of purchasing blank DVD disks, purchase a portable hard drive that plugs into your computer. One terabyte drives are now easily found for under $100 and they hold more than 200 DVD disks. Transferring photos to these units is also much faster and you donít have to change disks.


Also, if you are going on a big vacation, I recommend taking a larger quantity of smaller memory cards (like 4 gigabytes) as opposed to larger cards. Itís the ďall your eggs in one basketĒ idea, in that if something were to happen to your camera, a far greater number of photos would be lost as well. With smaller cards, you can keep them locked away in your hotel room or hotel safe while you travel. Even better, if you have a computer with you, back them up regularly or send them to your online storage service while you sleep. Another benefit is smaller cards are often discounted at prices that make them cheaper than buying one large card with equivalent capacity.


Now that you are ready to breathe a big sigh of relief, Iím going to bring up one last problematic issue. Every type of media degrades over time -- even those old film photographs, slides and negatives are slowly fading away. Researchers are still predicting how long some of our current modern media storage will last, but we really wonít know for a few years yet. Hard drives are prone to damage from magnetic fields. Optical disks (burned CDs and DVDs) donít like heat or abrasion. There is little written about how long data will store on an undisturbed memory card. Of course, the other mitigating factor is whether you will have something to ďplugĒ your storage media into 40 years from now. Ever try to force an LP record into a CD player? Itís not a pretty sight.


To work around these storage limitations and continued technological advancement, you should be prepared to do more copying of your media in the years to come. Yes, it all started with a few photos at the beach, but if you want to keep your images for posterity, your summer job will become an ongoing career.

Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previewsģ - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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