I’m planning on buying a new DSLR, and as I looked through old photos from college today I started to think about my first digital camera, a Philips ESP50. Here’s a page with some specs, translated from German.
I remember buying the camera, logged in to eBay from my parents’ house late at night the day after Christmas. I think I ended up paying something like $250 for it.
This was before the megapixel war, when 640 by 480 was considered a viable resolution. This camera applied tortuous levels of JPG compression to fit images on the 4MB disk. At the time, though, it seemed like a good deal. Film cost money, and developing film cost money, and most of the year I was a ramen-noodle-eating college student. Probably the biggest reason to go digital was the tiny little screen on the back – you could actually tell if you got the shot, instead of waiting to get back a bunch of blurry prints.
The camera is painfully obsolete now, and even then it was somewhat obscure. The thing is, the Web was a pretty amazing place even back in 1998 – there were lots of web pages about this camera. I remember reading at least a couple reviews, and searches for it on WebCrawler or Alta Vista or whatever I used back then came up with retailers, other auction sites, etc. Look for information about this camera now, and it seems that it has been largely forgotten:
- A blurb on a page mentioning that the camera had be announced.
- Flickr doesn’t have a page for Philips cameras at all, but a Google search comes up with maybe 30 photos.
- PBase has a category for it but no photos.
- Lots of autogenerated pages offering to sell me flash memory or batteries for it, along with every other electronic device ever created.
- Several copies of a list of Unix/Linux compatible cameras.
- A few requests for drivers.
And that’s about it.
I wonder, is this the destiny of all cameras? Will I do a search for my Nikon Coolpix 5700 in 2014 and come up with just as little, or has the Web expanded so quickly that the copious product reviews, blog posts, and technical discussions on photography forums outweigh the force of entropy? I wonder if the Internet has gained any stability as it has matured – do pages tend to stick around longer, or is linkrot a constant of the universe?
Future generations will hardly feel deprived if they miss out on information about some crappy old digicam. Still, you never know what kind of information will end up being useful to someone at some point, and this same problem extends to all the information on the Web – from reviews of obsolete products to the human genome. If a website goes under and deletes a thousand blogs, it won’t exactly make the news. But our great-grandchildren might look at that stuff the way we look at letters from the Civil War.
The only solutions I have are more effort behind projects like archive.org, increased data portability, and rational intellectually property laws that don’t make saving 70-year-old content from deletion into a federal crime.
For discussion, how do you deal with ancient equipment, keeping around old web content, or even archiving old email?