Like Frankenstein’s creature, they trail us across time and terra. Let’s set ourselves free.
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” the ghost of Jacob Marley once complained to a former co-worker. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard.” I know exactly what he was talking about — I have several thousand mediocre to wretched photos saved on my smartphone, and I carry them with me at all times.
The mediocre to wretched photos were created by me, and, like the mediocre to wretched humanoid creature created by Victor Frankenstein, they trail their maker across time and terra.
The worst of them — worse than hundreds of sunsets, captured over five years and demonstrating an artistic technique that never improves; worse than dozens of close-up common garden flowers I intended to circle back to and identify; worse than the image that my phone’s built-in object detection classified as “Sunset Sunrise” but which was, in fact, a hotel bed headboard with recessed lighting behind it (why?) — are the thousands of screenshots that divulge my poorest traits and inclinations.
A dropped pin on Google Maps means I wanted to research the value of a stranger’s home. Someone else’s Instagram post is evidence that a party was bad. Celebrities arguing online is proof that I, like one of hell’s minor demons, am thrilled by the strife of others. Most damning are the screenshots that reveal how much of my life is spent fiddling with my phone without my noticing: Accidental images of my lock screen multiply like bacteria.
So when, a few days ago, with nothing but nothing to do, I received the rude complaint from my phone that it was nearly out of storage, I began deleting. Moving in reverse chronological order, it was obvious why I never perform this chore; it’s fatiguing to relive the recent past.
The easiest and most satisfying approach, I discovered, was to utilize the object recognition feature that had mistaken hotel furniture for the disappearance of the sun below the earth’s horizon. Typing letters at random reliably generated a new odd category of photos to evaluate. “G-A-R” prompted “Garland,” and how many photos of “Garland” did I need? (Two of 11.) “W-A” produced three wash basins unidentifiable to me. “B” was difficult. Of course I love my friends’ babies, but I really didn’t need 98 photos of them, especially considering some were actually dolls.
Will I ever again recall my trip to the shopping area of Epcot’s United Kingdom Pavilion, now that the photographic record of it has been wiped clean? Perhaps not. But saving a dark, faraway shot of cracker boxes on a wooden table forever was not a healthy choice. For well over an hour I deleted, clawing back several gigabytes of space. I felt productive. I felt lighter. I had room for new screenshots.
Caity Weaver is a writer on the Styles desk.
Doodles by Tanner Curtis and Gray Beltran. Tanner is a photo editor for Politics at The Times. Gray is a multimedia/graphics editor.