Note to Self | Podcast Review | October 30, 2015 | By

Note to Self: It’s Time to Deal With Your Photo Clutter

Spooky thoughts and practical solutions—on Death and Photographs.



The first thing I pledged when I bought my new computer was that I wouldn’t allow my laptop to become the disjointed, disorganized, and discombobulated mess of a file graveyard that was my old hard drive. And for the most part, I’ve adhered to my goal: my documents are all neatly organized into folders, I periodically empty my trash and downloads, and I even have everything backed up on Dropbox. Let’s see how long it lasts. The only area in which I have utterly failed is in photos. I’m simply at a loss. Like a house in Hoarders, I have layers and layers of thousands of pictures, videos, and screenshots that I’ve all but given up on sorting. The topic of this week’s Note to Self reassured me that I am not the only one with this problem.

Host Manoush Zomorodi enlisted the help of Alan Henry, Deputy Editor at Lifehacker, to give us some tips on how to de-clutter our digital photo archives. On a practical level, the episode provided some seriously in-depth and clear instructions for how to go about the photo organizing process. If you listen to this episode and are impressed, as I was, with the amount of detail and customization of the instructions, you’ll be blown away by the incredibly informative step-by-step guide on the Note to Self website.

We hear Manoush go through the process of clearing out her own photo collection, which is somehow even more vast and tangled than my own. I could really empathize and commiserate with her as she struggled to revive an old computer and watched the progress bar make not much progress at all. We’ve all been there—we’ve waited for a video to buffer, a song to download, a document to copy—and Manoush effectively tapped into that shared frustration to create something relatable and endearing.

What made this episode great for me, however, was not just that it offered real practical advice and made me nod my head in agreement, but that it also made me think about life and death. Yeah, this episode goes deep.

Growing up, all I knew visually of my parents’ lives (and my own, before I was old enough to remember anything) came from a limited amount of old hard copy photos stored in a box somewhere. The total number of pictures in that box, which encompasses decades of life, probably make up only a fraction of the amount of photos I’ve taken with my iPhone in the past month. When one day I show my kids pictures from my life, where will I begin? From my Instagram feed? Or from my Photos  app? Surely the latter will take months to simply view.

The increase in the number of pictures we take has a lot to do with technology. It’s so easy to take a crystal-clear (or purposely filter-blurred) picture almost any time, anywhere. Social media motivates us to document everything—I know I’ve taken a picture of something for the sake of participating in a trending hashtag. Convenience has also led to habit. I find myself instinctively reaching for my phone any time something even remotely interesting is in front of me.

We seldom stop to ask ourselves why we care so much about capturing every single moment or getting a certain number of likes. Why are we so afraid of forgetting, and of being forgotten? In a really thought-provoking moment, this week’s Note to Self considered the following: What if smart phone cameras and social media are simply perpetuating and exacerbating an existing human instinct that’s been around since the beginning? What if our fear of death—or, for some, the fear of living an unfulfilled life—is at the core of all of this picture-taking?

About the Author

Rebecca Lim is a writer at Audiologue, where she covers Freakonomics and Note to SelfReach her by email at rebecca@audiologue.xyz.

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