How The Flood Of Digital Photos Adds Significance To The Ones We Print

In the age of digital cameras on a billion smartphones, the world is collectively creating a staggering number of photographs. You probably have a few hundred shots in your pocket right now, and that doesn't count the thousands you've backed up somewhere else, nor the ones available from the cloud. On Facebook alone, people upload 300 million photos every day. 

Just as important, we have ubiquitous new ways to view and share all those photos, from mobile phones to tablets to computers of all sorts. With how radically technology has upended the way we take and share photographs, you'd think that printing images would be dead by now.

Far from it. As it turns out, the act of preserving our favorite images in the analog world is becoming newly meaningful.

The Internet and computers of all shapes and sizes have made producing and consuming content easier than ever. We're awash in more information, news, opinions, artwork, photographs, videos and songs than our brains know what to do with. It's overwhelming. Ironically, choosing to pull the best or most meaningful bits out of this endless digital river as it rages by and solidifying them in a physical format, means more now that it did when all content was analog.

Today, analog isn't just hip. It's relaxing. Putting on a vinyl record is an altogether different experience from shuffling a Spotify playlist, just as cozying up with a paperback book can help us feel more focused than reading on an iPad. Likewise, tapping the "Like" button on a Facebook photo means one thing. Hanging it on your wall or refrigerator is quite another. Even better, turn your favorite photos into a book

Turn Your Instagrams Into... Pretty Much Anything

Look at Instagram. As the social photo app has exploded into the mainstream - hitting 100 million users more quickly than either Facebook or Twitter did - there's been a corresponding rise in third-party services designed to let people turn Instagram photos into physical artifacts. 

Sure, you could easily upload photos from Instagram or any other mobile source to one of the many standard photo-printing sites, but this new breed of Instagram-specific services streamlines the process by letting you authenticate with your Instagram account and pull photos directly from your own stream. With many of them, you can just select images and place an order from your phone. 

It's ideal for making the sort of glossy photographic prints we've always cherished, but people are turning to these services for much more than that. Printstagram sells Instagram prints, posters, photo books and calendars. Art Flakes has stickers. Want magnets? Try StickyGram. If you used Instagram to snap photos on vacation, Postagram will turn them into postcards. CanvasPop will print your photos on high-quality canvas. And the list goes on. 

Meanwhile, printing photos from Facebook and Instagram is now a standard feature on kiosks at places like Walgreens and Target. Long gone are the days where we dropped off a roll of 24 mystery pictures, waited an hour (or a week) and then shuffled through a stack of mediocre shots to see if there were any gems mixed in. 

Today, printing is a much more deliberate act, reserved for only the images we appreciate the most. The rest of them will sit on hard drives and Facebook Timelines to be scrolled through at our leisure. Many of them, of course, will never get looked at by anyone. The ones you take the time and trouble to print, though, those are the ones you're gonna make sure everyone sees.