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Growing up documented more in age of digital cameras

By Anick Jesdanun
AP Internet Writer

NEW YORK — For her 30th birthday, while she was still pregnant, Lindsay Nie received from Mom an album filled with her baby and childhood photos.

She enjoyed the trip down memory lane — recalling, for instance, the wooden slide she had in her room and the way she used to play on it. But she also noticed many gaps in the collection, in some cases months or even a year in length.

So after Nie gave birth to Amber last December, she was determined to leave a better record, a daily diary through imagery. She slips her Canon PowerShot SD450 digital camera into a diaper bag anywhere she goes and has snapped more than 6,500 photos in nine months.

“I grab it all the time, if she’s just doing something really cute, maybe playing with a toy or grabbing a shoe in a shoe store,” Nie said. “I don’t really delete any. Years from now, I want to remember the bad face she made” — not just the smiles.

Thanks to cheap and easy-to-use recording devices — digital cameras, camcorders, camera phones — today’s children are forming the most documented generation ever, as parents, relatives and friends capture forever the first, second and hundredth smile.

The challenge will come in managing all the data and making sure they get migrated and cared for along the way.

“There’s going to be little escaping the embarrassment that comes with having that many baby photos and videos,” said Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “On the other hand, what a great thing for this generation to have.”

The research company InfoTrends estimates that 67 percent of U.S. households had digital cameras last year, up from 42 percent in 2004.

Today’s children will get a glimpse tomorrow of what everyday life was like — how their parents dressed, what furniture and paintings were in their homes — not just during birthdays and special occasions when past generations were more apt to pull out their film cameras and pose in their best outfits.

“With digital you can just keep on taking to get the one you want,” said Amy Short, a nurse in East Alton, Ill. “I definitely take a lot more of my son of just everyday, laying around or sleeping or just little things.”

Virginia Merritt of Newnan, Ga., laments that she has few records from her life past 8 months, including when she started walking.

“I just have what my mom remembers,” she said.

So for Evan, who turns 1 Sept. 25, Merritt made sure to keep a list of firsts on the Web site Totsites, including first use of a sippy cup (Aug. 8), first fever (April 8) and first passing of a toy from one hand to the other (Feb. 12) — categories generally not found in traditional, printed baby books.

She also posted sonograms from her pregnancy at Baby Crowd, a Web site for expecting parents.

But all this documentation may carry a price if parents, in spending so much energy creating and preserving a digital archive, fail to enjoy living the moment.

And will future generations even have time to look through stacks of CDs containing tens or hundreds of thousands of photos, and even if they do, will individual memories become less precious because there are so many?

What if disk drives fail or software formats change, rendering photos unreadable by tomorrow’s computers? Will CDs even work? Think of those reels of 8mm home movies with no projectors for viewing them.

“If you look at your parents’ or grandparents’ belongings, you can find old negatives, ... and negatives are still reproducible,” said Greg Miele, a Bethesda, Md., father of two, ages 9 and 17. “Yet if you have a hard drive fail on your computer, it’s all over. It’s a huge risk to maintain your photographs in a digital medium.”

Many parents acknowledge their children may never want all the photos, but they say they’d like to have them available just in case they want them — particularly as they become parents themselves.

“Now that I have children of my own, I would love to see baby pictures of me to see if my daughter looks like I did, what characteristics I share,” said Thea Jankowski of Saint Charles, Ill.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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