Our 12-year-old son and I have begun a new tradition.
Every night at bedtime, I pull out my ancient iPhone 6-plus and we relax for a few minutes looking at family photographs and videos on the camera roll.
Last Sunday night we found a 2013 video of our dog Boise "singing" (actually howling operatically) while being accompanied by a harmonica. It was a hoot and put us in a good mood before we turned in for the night.
It's an interesting quirk of modern life that we take tons of photographs on our smartphones, but we spend relatively little time reflecting on them.
Looking at family photos used to be a pastime. Can I get an "amen" from the boomers out there?
I remember when I was a kid, the family photo album was a coffee-table staple. When company came to call, the photo books were sure to come out before the evening was over.
I remember individual photographs of myself. One that's stuck in my mind is a photograph of me at about 18 months, napping on the floor sprawled out next to a toy trombone. It was a black-and-white photograph with white edges attached to the page with little black mounting corners.
Now, we take tons of photos, post a few on social media ("ego candy"), and then promptly forget about them.
I'm teaching a writing class at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this semester, and I was delighted to learn from the students that Polaroid cameras are making a comeback. Part of it is the novelty of self-developing photos, I suppose, but I'd like to think that people are rediscovering life outside of pixels, too. Plus, there's something mildly liberating about photos that exist outside the digital realm and can't be misappropriated. Who knows, one day darkrooms may come back into vogue.
One of my favorite memories from college was watching two young women split a box of photographic paper by opening the box in broad daylight and then dealing the pages to one another as if they were about to play Go Fish. I didn't have the heart to tell them that they had ruined the whole box.
So, back to bedtime.
The 12-year-old and I settle in each night for a new episode of "this is your life." The oldest photo on my camera is a shot from Independence Day 2009 in Sewanee, Tennessee. Almost 3 years old, he is smiling and trying to pull a paper sack over his head.
Next come pictures of him and his older brother chasing seagulls in Destin, Florida. There are soccer tournaments and vacations and car shows. Interspersed are short videos, like one of my older son punching a snowball the size of a bread box. There's also a video of son No. 2, who built a ramp so he could dunk a basketball. Ah, the inventions of childhood.
Hair is another big theme of our camera-roll look-backs. Our 12-year-old is endlessly entertained, and a bit embarrassed, by pictures of himself with the bowl haircut that makes him look like Moe on the Three Stooges. Now he wears his hair in a European soccer cut, high and tight.
Somehow, my camera has started producing short videos. It takes a handful of still photos from an event or venue and sets them to music, sometimes panning the photo to give the illusion of motion.
How and why my iPhone is doing this trick is a mystery. Maybe Apple heard about the whole Polaroid trend and got busy with a software update.
If you have a child in your life, try tucking them in one night with a journey down memory lane. It's a trip.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.