I Lost All My Photos in One Day
I was staring at my phone.
I was in shock.
But I… I backed them up… I thought.
It was Ice Cream Night in the city of Buenos Aires (yeah, it’s actually a thing) and I was with a friend at Freddo, a well-known heladería, or ice-cream parlor. I’d just ordered my scoops, handed over my card and then taken back the receipt for my signature.
I glanced up guiltily at the man behind the register.
I was already having a rough day, but the prospect of not being able to buy my small cup of comfort ice cream struck me harder than the realization that I was suddenly trying to process…
All of the photos on my phone were gone.
Why I Needed Them
Here in Buenos Aires, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll need to write my passport number on any given credit card receipt. It might sound weird to an audience from the US (and probably a European audience, as well, because I’ve never had to do it in Europe) but down here knowing your “citizen number” is just a given.
Needless to say, I haven’t gotten around to memorizing my passport number. So, like any forward-thinking modern human (and like anyone who doesn’t want to be carrying their passport on them 24/7 in a foreign country) I just snapped a photo of the number and I keep it handy in my phone in case I need to put it down on receipts.
Staring at my phone, registering the shock of my missing photos (several thousand images and videos gone like that) I stared at the ice cream guy and didn’t know what to say.
It wasn’t a question of whether I had money in my bank account. It was a question of whether I could remember the 8- or 9-digit code that would allow me to complete the purchase.
It was literally a question of whether I needed to ask him to take my ice cream away.
And no one wants that.
Luckily, that night at Freddo, the man saw my panic, hastened to reassure me (in Spanish) that all he needed was my signature, and I walked dully over to the corner of the room.
“Perdón,” I told my Argentine friend, ice cream held in my hand like a security blanket. “Necesito un minuto.” Sorry, I need a minute.
I sat there, staring at my phone screen. I scooped ice cream into my mouth.
Then, I shook my head, blew out a breath, and stood.
“Vamos,” I said to my friend with a smile. Let’s go.
Maybe it’s three years of being a minimalist, and learning to let go of things that no longer bring value to my life. Maybe it’s the meditation I’ve been trying to practice recently with more consistency.
I don’t know.
But for some reason, after that initial moment of shock and panic, the gut punch of losing all my “digital memories” dulled… and disappeared.
Looking back a couple days later (and having read through enough Apple support articles to know that my photos are gone for good), I think there are a couple things I can learn from the experience. Maybe, hopefully, you can get a little bit of insight as well.
Don’t Take So Many Photos in the First Place
“We can enjoy this moment without sharing it with anyone.”
Even more important, we can enjoy this moment without hoarding it for later.
Photos Aren’t Memories, They’re Triggers
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know one of the biggest reasons I photograph, video or screenshot so frequently is that I fear I’ll forget.
Oh no! I think. This is so [beautiful/inspiring/motivational/insightful/funny] and if I don’t save it now then I won’t remember it forever!
*click goes the shutter*
What I’ve never taken the time to acknowledge is that 99.99% of the time I forget about the photos anyway. Then, when I have to go back through my phone every few months and scroll, delete, scroll, delete I realize how few photos I really need to remind me of important events.
At most, a couple of pics from my 3-week journey around Europe would suffice to trigger the rush of positive memories and love I feel for the friends I traveled with. At most, a few photos of my brothers and dad would remind me to send them a text or make a call. It’s not like I’m going to forget the times I’ve spent with them, even though the pictures are now gone.
My photos aren’t memories themselves. They’re just reminders for me to recall the memories that are either in my brain or not.
Stop Being Attached to Things That Don’t Matter
Easier said than done, of course. But what I’m most proud of from that night was how easily I shook off the instinctive desire to react with sadness and pain.
Maybe I’m overestimating how bad I “should have felt.” But I know that I’d been saving some of those photos for ages. They had been taking up space on my phone for years.
And then, in an instant, they had disappeared.
Now, looking back, I think I have a fresh perspective.
Sure, it’s nice to remember that funny Snapchat video I sent. But it’s not a huge loss if I don’t see it again.
I’m a funny guy. I can make more videos in the future, if I really need to.
At the Same Time, Probably Back Up Your Digital Life
That said, it’s still nice to have your photos.
As a novelist, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. I’ve lost days and weeks of writing because I got sloppy about saving my work. It’s why I now store all of my stories in Google Drive. Not because it’s necessarily the best option, but because I know how it works for me and I know my hard work is safe.
Take care of the things that matter.
Learn to let go of the things that don’t (especially when they might disappear anyway).
I Hope You Don’t Lose All Your Photos, Like I Did
But only because it’s a nasty shock.
Not because I think that the experience was harmful, useless, or even negative.
It probably, in the end, did me some good.
Or at least gave me something to write about.
Good luck. Good cheer. Rise above.