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A picture's worth a thousand kilobytes

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

This morning my computer told me it was out of memory, that it couldn’t save one more byte until I deleted some files. Did I mention that my machine’s got a ton of memory?

There’s no way I could have used all that memory in only a single lifetime. Where did it all go?

I remember having a discussion years ago with a business owner who was having a hard time deciding whether he should buy a computer with 10 or 20 megabytes, because the difference was thousands of dollars. The cheapest iPhone has 1,600 times that much memory and it can make phone calls and run “Angry Birds,” so I thought the memory problem had been solved.

For years, I’ve been adding family photos and vacation pictures to my hard drive without a problem. If you have a camera, you might as well use it; it’s not as if you have to spend money developing pictures anymore.

When people aren’t talking or texting on their cellphones, they’re taking pictures with them. Imagine how many pictures were taken just today, just by teenagers. The recent spate of news stories on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination tells an unintended story about the thing that has changed the most in 50 years. There is one, count it, one blurry, fuzzy, long-range, almost accidental film of that crime. Imagine how many videos of it there would be if cellphones had existed then. A hundred? A thousand?

Photographs aren’t just for weddings, vacations, babies and birthdays any more. There are millions of people out there that take pictures of the food on their plates before they eat it.

But when I first started taking digital pictures, they would take up 300 to 700KB of memory. The pictures I take with my new tablet take up 2.6MB of memory – four or five times as much memory per picture. Sure, they’re much better, but one of these pictures couldn’t have fit on one of those not-so-old 3 1/2-inch floppy disks. Which explained the strange “thank yous” I was getting after emailing 150 pictures of my vacation to my nearest and dearest.

Something had to go, but I am a picture hoarder. Even if it’s a photo with half my finger over the lens, I hate to throw a picture away. I’m storing them in the cloud now to give my desktop a little breathing room. But I don’t like it. What if they lose my picture of last night’s dinner?

• Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.

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