When I was in college at the University of Texas in the 80s studying for a photojournalism degree, we had guest lecturer who tried to tell us that digital photography was going to take over photojournalism.
It was hard to imagine in 1985 that digital cameras would be as ubiquitous as they are today. Sony was the first to come out with a "digital" camera in 1981. In 1986, Kodak created the first megapixel sensor that allowed for something approaching a photo-quality print. So as an undergrad at UT, it was easy to scoff at the idea that digital photography was going to replace in any way the skills that we were learning amongst the stop bath fumes.
Now we know better. My phone has a 3.0 megapixel camera with a flash. You can get (and boy do I want one) a digital SLR with up to 15 megapixels. Only a professional would want or need that much definition and 10 is enough for the average person (which I am, degree notwithstanding), but you can see we've come a long way since that first sensor in 1986.
It wasn't until software caught up with the human photographer's ability to manipulate a raw image that I was really convinced that digital photography was king. Now I can do things with my software that would have taken me hours with special chemicals and apparatus to achieve in the darkroom. And that's not even talking the level of manipulation that something like Photoshop allows.
I read an interesting article today at work, which got me thinking about all of this and taking this trip down memory lane. It said that Coach, the folks who make wallets and such, have significantly reduced the number of plastic photo holders that they make. Why? Because people carry their photographs digitally on their phones now. Think about it. When's the last time you made an actual print of your photographs to put in your wallet? Why whip out a paper photograph from your wallet when you can show off your kids or your critters by pulling out your phone? Instant updates available from Facebook, better quality, no sticking to the plastic when it gets too hot.
So it's not just that we take photos differently; we store them differently as well. We can take a virtually unlimited number of photos of Junior as he takes his first steps, delete the ones that didn't turn out and email them off to Grandma in less time than it would have taken to drive to the drugstore to get your film developed in the age of cellulose.
We can even scan old photos before they deteriorate completely, clean them up and save them digitally. And if you don't think that's been a boon to historians, amateur and professional, you haven't really considered what it would mean to lose the photographic record for something monumental like a world war.
And of course let's not forget that digital photography and the Internet. They have the power to bring change faster than ever before. If picture is worth a thousand words, this combination must be worth a million.