Our iMac is terminally ill. As is so often the case with computers, there was no warning - one day it was working fine and then the next the screen starts up with what is a cartoon-like portrayal of illness - a uniformly grey face hatched from corner to corner with little pink scars, except over the familiar Apple logo in the middle where they are green - and thus it is stuck. Three conversations later with various levels of Apple support and I learn there is nothing we can do about it. This is a top of the range machine; it looks as fresh as the latest models but, you see, this computer was bought in 2009. It’s seven years old. In Apple parlance it is “Vintage”. Far from that word’s association in my mind with nostalgia, something faded and elegant to be preserved or enjoyed over time, in Apple’s dictionary it means it is no longer supported for repairs and spare parts. Redundant. It is time to move on.
When I took the photograph above, I wanted to convey the idea of stumbling on a typically disorganised family archive and to emphasise that the item you will most immediately fall upon and instantly enjoy and share, will be printed - a photograph, or letter perhaps. There may be other valuable material stored within the various media there but the effort and equipment required to extract it will in all likelihood make the exercise cumbersome, even impossible. It may in short become a joyless task, which would be such a shame. In the case of our own computer we have been lucky; behind its dead face we could hear signs of life, the processors and drives seemed to be okay, as though the computer were trapped in some electronic coma. With a little ingenuity we found a work-around that allowed us to extract the remaining files that hadn’t already been backed up.
Later, I sat next to a mother and keen photographer at a party - my dinner companion was passionate about her family photographs. “I keep all my SD [camera] cards in the safe”, she volunteered. I asked her how confident she was that one day in the future she would still be able to read them - and on what? It’s not the media itself that’s necessarily going to fail in time (it may, it may not, we’re not sure) but the devices and connections that media relies on to read it are ever so vulnerable. We agreed that the best thing we were doing for our families’ future enjoyment of photographs was the dutiful creation of the annual holiday book and calendar.
Back at home, we have just discarded a broken mini-disc player. I am looking at my Firewire drives. I am looking at the comatose iMac. It’s time to switch the life support off. We’ll send it to be recycled and hopefully its beautifully machined aluminium casing will serve in some future incarnation. In the meantime, if your idea of a family photograph is one that your grandchild will one day enjoy, then bear in mind it may be best not to rely on the computer world’s notion of “Vintage”.