Curation and Focus

Every year, my wife and I make a photo book with highlights from the year. We both have iPhones, so the pictures we have to pull from are seemingly endless. These days there are an abundance of shots of our one year old and three year old, some good, some blurry, some rushed, and a few undistinguishable (the three year old gets a hold of the phones from time to time). The book contains only the best pictures, only the most meaningful events, only the most memorable moments. It’s only a small fraction of the pictures we took and the memories we shared. Things have to be left out. But when we are sitting around and decide to get out old pictures, we don’t pull up the computer to look through the tens of thousands of photos. We grab our yearly photo books.

Curation creates value. Or maybe curation just highlights value. I’m not sure. But in an age where keeping literally everything is pretty much a reality, focus and curation become increasingly important, and even essential.

A decade ago photos actually took up real space, you could only keep as many as you had room in your album, or photo box. The illustrious would fill closets, but generally most people just kept the good ones. Photos also had to be printed from film. Only fit so many photos on a roll of film (something like 25 if I remember correctly) and it cost money to print each photo. So photos were precious. You didn’t just go around clicking the shutter at everything. You made sure to get a good shot, and you just took one or two. The physical limits on photographs forced us to care more about the pictures we took, and therefore the pictures generally came out better and were more meaningful. Now those physical limitations are gone. I can take thousands of pictures on my phone without having to pay any money to develop them and without having to invest in cargo pants to take all the extra pictures with me to show off my kids to friends, relatives, and innocent passers by. I don’t have to care as much because it doesn’t cost me as much.

But without limits the collection becomes daunting. I don’t want to sit down and filter through the thousdands of pictures to enjoy a few, which is why I rarely sit down and flip through my iPhoto library. In my mind I can rest assured that I have all the special moments stored away. But without limits, the collection becomes functionaly worthless in that I will rarely use it for the purpose that I created it for, to remind myself of and enjoy memories.

When you say yes to something, you say no to something else. There is always a cost. The illusion with digital files and storage is that saying yes to saving something has no cost. Indeed there is no physical cost, or at least the physical cost is so minimal that it doesn’t matter from a purely physical or monetary standpoint. But there is a cost of time and value. They will either cost you time later when you come back to them, or they will be forgotten completely, and the saving them is worthless. Will saving that picture clutter up your album? Will saving that draft clutter up your writing workflow? Next time take a moment to think, will saving this be worth the cost?