Tuesday, December 13, 2016

While Making Family Movies, Capture the Everyday Splendor of Family Life

I’ve been watching tape, video tape, from when our family was young. I would not be doing this but I’ve been finally preparing to have these tapes digitized for posterity. I don’t think the library of congress is all that interested but I hope, one day, my now emerging adult sons will be. And I think the odds of it all being lost somewhere along the way are not small.

This whole task has led me to some insights about what you capture and how you hand it off to the next generation. Some of what I share here is for people more at my stage of life, but a lot of my thoughts are going to matter most for those of you who are somewhere closer to the start of that arc of family history than us.

Backdrop: Working on the prequel to the sequel

I want our two sons to have a reasonable shot at having all these videos we recorded when they were young.  My wife and I have things pretty sorted out on saving photos for them but I’ve put off dealing with the video, until now. The immediate impetus to work through the videos was learning about a service that makes it easy for me to box up the videos and send them off to the big digitizer in the sky (Tennessee, I think). You can also probably get this done with a local service in your city. Ask around if you are ready to do that.

Suggestion Number One: These are not the droids you’ll be looking for

If you are going to capture videos of your family, I would record a lot more of the day-to-day family stuff than you otherwise might. I’m talking about playing, laughing, dancing, and bathing (use some discretion if you later desire that your emerging adults do not hate you). One of our most precious videos catches our sons dancing to a video of River Dance, maybe around the ages of 5 and 2.5. I say “maybe” because I’m too lazy to get up right now from typing to ask my wife, who would somehow know precisely how old they were at the time and maybe what they ate for lunch that day. I know they were little and cute, and they were enthusiastic in their dancing. Their dancing was electric as well as confirming of paternity. Um, let’s just leave that alone.

Another of my personal favorites is of our youngest, maybe around 3, wrapped tightly in a towel after a bath, arms inside, looking like a little pastry with legs and no arms. He was trying to jump up on our bed without the use of his arms. It. Is. Hysterical. He tries and tries and tries and finally makes it. These days, we might call that grit. It is joy.  

In addition to such moments, we, of course, have a lot of video of birthdays and Christmas occasions as well as trips to and from various relatives. To grandma’s house we went and returned. That’s all nice to have, really it is. But the videos I am finding most precious now are the ones with just the four of us doing normal stuff. I also realize that I remember plenty of special occasions relatively well. At least, I don’t see things in those videos that surprise me or remind me of things I simply had no memory for, now.

This suggestion is the one I didn’t see before this weekend. You might already get this. I didn't. Special occasions are so predictable. The "special" dates and times are more staged and filled with expected moments. To me, the magical stuff is the loveliness of family life on the small stage.

To the right is a completely un-staged photo from my own childhood. That's one of my older brothers hugging me. He's had a very hard life. This was not a special occasion, but of course it was. An I have absolutely no memory of it, now, but it's a joy to see.

Suggestion Number Two: There is another

Record a lot more of child number two, and numbers three through whatever, if you have them, than you are already doing. We all know how this goes. The first child gets massive attention; the second, gets less. And even when you are trying to focus on the second, that will be affected by the first one having developed massive skills in photo-bombing everything. Star Wars, indeed.

Twenty years or more from now, when you are cataloguing stuff for your children to have, you might wish you’d acted a little more to capture more of everyone. We did pretty well but think about if you’ll find it awkward to hand over 70 videos of the first child and 30 of the second, and 10 of the third. Fourth child and beyond? Well, they will be happy that you still remember their name. You can counter this now, but only a bit. Try to record less of the first one (just try) and more of the others. You can thank me 25 years from now. I’ll stick around.

I know a lot of families are very complex (step parent relationships, adoption when children are older, and so forth). Don’t avoid figuring out a strategy for your family as it really is, just because it may be more complex. 

Suggestion Number Three: Your digital life might as well be stored on Alderaan

Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but it’s important to consider how to protect some of what you are capturing at the home planet just in case someone decides to test a new death star, nearby. The Empire really does not care that your children get this stuff, so you might want to start figuring out now how you are going to get some of this to them. My sons are digitally savvy young adults, of course. But we all know the biggest risk in any attempt to preserve this stuff: These precious family memories will slip into the cacophony of the digital avalanche of rest of their lives—and be lost forever. As organized as I am and as gadget and electronically inclined they are, I would still bet more on it all being lost than not many years from now. I know that is what is most likely, but “never tell me the odds.”

I will try to counter this possibility with notes, instructions, and guilt—for their own good. Consider all that is stacked against you in passing this digital stuff along. They need to know they have it. They need to remember they have it. They need to care that they have it while they can still preserve it. It needs to be kept in various places (like multiple copies). They need to have it in a way that it is remotely likely to be readable by much more advanced systems and formats in the future. I came across some Zip drives in my closet in the basement just this weekend. For those who are wondering, Zip drives were a type of floppy (inside) medium that could hold a whopping 100MB (that's an M not a G). I do not have any Zip drive devices anymore. I could go find one but I won’t bother. What’s on that format is lost forever. I didn’t throw those out yet but I will. Without looking. They will do the same with anything that is not easily usable by their devices by the time they care enough to look at or save things.

Suggestion Number Four: Use the force

This is the hardest suggestion here for most of us to follow because it requires that you use some force to be somewhat more disciplined right now, amidst the drool, tears, homework, jobs, spectator events, and obligations of raising children. If you are like most people, you are capturing so many photos and videos that the task of figuring out later what’s valuable will become too daunting. That mountain of stuff will be useless unless you can capture less or cull much more as you go. If you leave your children terabytes of digital memories, your children will need the NSA to comb through it all to find the best stuff. You may not be afraid of this if you are quite young, but all I can say is, you will be. You will be. At least be afraid enough to be motivated to capture and keep a lot less than you are, now.

Here’s an idea I heard on the radio (podcast, actually—I am pretty current) from my favorite broadcaster covering tech, Leo Laporte. He recommends identifying 1 photo a month (yeah, that was a “1”. One. Uno. A singularity. The loneliest number.). Then, send the digits for that picture off to a company that prints good quality photos on archival paper. Laporte noted that the service he’s using charges a buck or so per photo. His argument was brilliant. If you have some shoe boxes of these chosen photos, your children are highly likely to keep those boxes no matter what else happens on Alderaan. Smart.

I think that’s quite a comment on the digitization of our lives. My wife made fabulous albums of our son’s early lives. These are amazing. And we have those. I am sure our sons will always have them unless there is some fire or flood that damages these treasures.  I have the equivalent from my parents, who are now gone. They didn’t have digital but I have the photos, like the one below. It's also a rare photo of me in a coat and tie. (I'm the cute one.)

Like so many things in life, this task is simply expressed and difficult to accomplish. Make it easy and interesting for those who come after to keep memories of what came before.