Finger on the Button

(c) –

I did a search for the phrase “finger on the button.” I knew what it meant, but I wanted to back it up. The meaning is, “To be responsible for choosing to fire a country’s nuclear weapons.”

That is a general meaning, but the reason it came to my mind had nothing to do with nuclear weapons.

There is something we have been meaning to do around the house for years. MANY years. Postponing some things is a huge gamble. An example would be a carbon monoxide detector or fire extinguisher. Those are things you postpone at your peril. Like many things, if you wait until you really need them, it is probably too late, and these are life-altering/ending if not available when most needed. We got those immediately on moving to the forest. There are other things that are almost equally important but do not get the same attention. The example I want to talk about is scanning pictures. Unscanned pictures will obviously not cause your future to be lost, but they could cause important chunks of your past to be lost for you and yours. History.

I got my first appreciation of how much there is to lose when my dad died. We found a treasure of pictures and bits of family history in my grandmother’s house. Baptismal clothing. Pictures of family come and gone before I or even my father were in any pictures. I have a picture of my great-great-grandfather, whom I never met, in a frame with curved glass. It is so old the picture has fused to the glass and cannot be separated. I have no story. That died with my great-grandmother. I have over 100 handwritten letters from my dad in Korea to my grandmother. I have a little journal my grandmother kept when she was in grade school. She was not in school very long and it is a joy to read things of hers peculiar to a very young girl.

When my dad died and we found this treasure, I spent weeks scanning it, one picture to a scan. I scanned them to a BMP (Bitmap) format, which is a ‘loss-less’ format, meaning all information is preserved with the scan. That is as far as I’ll go as to the format. Bitmap files are apparently not supported by companies that print pictures. It is not a big deal to translate to other formats (i.e. JPG, or JPEG, a ‘lossy’ format that is compressed making smaller files). The translation thing caused a hiccup between me and my sisters. You see, after scanning every picture and newspaper article I found, I saved them onto DVDs and gave them to all of my siblings and family members remaining. I kept the originals but I wanted everyone to have copies they could have printed as desired. As I said, these are treasures and I wanted everyone to be able to have everything, and at the same time, make sure that somewhere a copy of all pictures was preserved for all future.

Last year my daughter’s house burned. It was not a total loss though they were forced to live in a townhouse paid for by the insurance company while her house was restored. This took over a year. People were amazing with their generosity, donating money, clothes, gifts, etc. What they could not recover, though, were pictures burned. There are things you postpone at your peril. Like many things, if you wait to preserve them, you could find yourself in a situation where it is too late, where they are just lost.

I have written probably three times about the importance of backing up photographs. That is because, first, I think it is such an important thing to do. Pictures of those gone cannot be taken again. Generations that will never get a chance to see those pictures, or the people in them, will miss out and, unfortunately, never even know how much they missed. I got to see them and immediately regretted the lateness of the hour. By the time I saw those photo treasures, most everyone who could have identified the people in them, or told the stories of those people, was gone. Are gone. Backing up photographs is an important thing to do.

If we convert our photographs to computer files, we can collect them and share them. Even without the people in those photos, the photographs tell stories. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. That was always an undervaluation. And to some people, there is simply no number of words that could express the value of a photograph.

Sharing the collection of family treasures means redundancy. If one copy gets lost or destroyed, it is easily replaced. Many of my daughter’s pictures could be replaced by those who shared the moments or the photographs. Many were just lost. Tragedy that will ripple through generations.

Your fingers are certainly on the button over generations. Camera buttons. Snapping treasures that you were not in to capture moments you were there to record. Fingers of earlier generations were doing the same. Preserving histories. Treasures. Even more, it takes a village, because those treasures need to be preserved and passed down through coming generations. And THAT is where I believe we have such a great opportunity.

Much of our history is in photographs. Not in digital form, but on fragile paper curling and yellowing as we speak. Scanning is easy. Many/most of the cheap printers we buy today include scanners and often software to get the job done. Our Epson came with software that allows us to scan many pictures at the same time, separating them into individual photographs, naming and numbering them, and saving them to our hard drive all at once. It is getting easier to do and harder to justify failing to do. It takes some minutes but failing to invest those minutes can cost generations.