I've had a fascination with the past for a long time. Many years ago I inherited a massive collection of family photographs and ephemera. I've got pictures, documents, and collections of trinkets that spans the greater part of 120 years. For years I've been digitizing content and sharing it online. I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I've insisted on scanning with the best equipment at maximum levels of resolution. As a result, this task has literally taken me years and I'm nowhere near done. While perusing these old photographs of my family I've often wondered when people will start uploading troves of their old photos to the web. I could only imagine the scenario I found myself in - expensive scanning equipment scanning at max resolution - so I never thought of a simple solution. Now, with Facebook's Timeline and many other online memorial and family history sites sprouting up, I'm starting to see other peoples old photos pop up on the web. Enter Shoebox.
There's a site called 1000Memories that wishes to be a Facebook for the past. They started as a digital memorial site - a place to post memories of people who are no longer with us. However, users quickly started creating massive communities around pre-internet content. The good people at 1000Memories noticed that most uploads were pictures people took with their smartphones. People were literally using their iPhones to take pictures of their old photographs. I bought my Nikon 9000 scanner over 5 years ago. At the time it was the best negative scanner on the market. It's amazing to me that my iPhone now has the capacity to take a reasonable scan of an old photograph. Don't get me wrong, there is no way I'm abandoning my procedure and using an iPhone instead. The iPhone camera has nowhere near the capability of my various scanners. However, in a world of billions of connected devices, and a world where more and more people are becoming empowered by their smartphones, there is now a simple and effective way for bringing old photos to the web. It's a very clever solution to a problem I've often found myself pondering.
I think it's an inevitability that we'll start seeing more and more personally relevant content finding it's way to the web. All discussions of personal privacy aside, I think this is a great thing. Ray Kurzweil (a technologist I'm a huge fan of) has a dream of bringing his father back to life. When he speaks of his dream I don't think he means literally - I think he means with the assistance of technology. As technology gives us the ability to upload photos, memories, and ephemera to the web, tools will emerge that will help us organize, curate, study, and enjoy all of this content. I think we're currently in a period of extreme experimentation. Sites like 1000Memories, HistoryPin, and many others are all toying with this notion of bringing the past back to life. It's fascinating to think of the web and technology as a means by which we can resurrect the past. But it's true - we can. I've got a series of nine old Apple iMac computers in my home stacked three by three. Each computer plays a slideshow of photographs from a particular decade. The first iMac has the 1880s to the 1910s on it and the last iMac has the 1990s on it. When they're all playing it feels as though you're traveling back in time.
I look forward to seeing what other companies and services emerge to help us digitize and resurrect the past. I also hope to offer a solution of my own. I'd love to have a tool I can use to help make sense of this vast trove of data I've created.