I Lost All My Photos in One Day

Here’s what I learned…

Jack Dolinar
Nov 22, 2019 · 5 min read
via FunkyFocus

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

More than a year ago I read an article by Leo Babauta of Zenhabits. It wasn’t this one, but it conveyed the same message:

“We can enjoy this moment without sharing it with anyone.”

Even more important, we can enjoy this moment without hoarding it for later.

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.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Join The Startup’s +800K followers.

Jack Dolinar

Written by

I’m a writer, explorer and friend. I like to smile at people in the street. I write things to help me be more wise. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +800K followers.

Jack Dolinar

Written by

I’m a writer, explorer and friend. I like to smile at people in the street. I write things to help me be more wise. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +800K followers.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store