There are photos, actually physical printed photos, of scenes from my childhood in family photo albums. And not just my family, but in albums of aunts and uncles too. There are photos of high school and university adventures spread across many classmates – most likely throw out by now, while others in random boxes of stuff rarely opened. Photos of me have been shared with strangers, people I’ve never met.
And this is true ever since the camera was invented. People sharing photos accompanying stories. And yes, photos can show up in random places. Once the moment in time is captured and printed, it can travel. And physical photos did and do that. For a while, a photo of me was part of an Ikea display in one of its stores.
When the camera went digital, sharing continued and became easier. And they still get shared with family members, included in albums, or whisked around as attachments in emails or text messages. Sometimes they are still printed, put in frames, or adorn coffee tables.
But the big change has been digital platforms enabling sharing. The current popular iterations Facebook and Instagram, but the list of options is long and changes regularly. Just like the photo of me on my aunt’s wall is not mine, any photo we put on most internet sites are also no longer ours. The difference is the photo on my aunt’s wall is considered her property, but if she puts it on Facebook, it is no longer hers or mine, it’s Facebook. And you can replace Facebook with most internet sites. It’s a bit like my appearance in Ikea – I could not walk into the store and take my picture, it was not my property. However, I was in one store, not every store.
One of the trickiest aspects of digital literacy is the mosaic effect. It’s not a singular event, photo, or a piece of data that matters. On their own, they are just a moment in time, but as they get shared, remain present in a database somewhere, they can be connected to other events and data.
And consent doesn’t really work in this space either. Consent tends to be based again on a moment in time, an event. And yet, it often includes consent to share with others and nothing about deletion.
And none of us can see the future.