How We Evolved Past Our Digital Cameras


There were certain things that I ignored for a long time that became important once I had my diploma in hand, or rather, in whatever box it’s sitting in now. (Fact of life: you spend a lot of time working for a piece of paper that you’ll eventually stuff into a box that says COLLEGE in Sharpie on the outside.) It suddenly became paramount that I go through everything I own and rid myself of the excess accumulated over a lifetime. As the trash bags began to bulge and rip, I realized I hadn’t thrown away a single electronic device I’d ever had. I still owned every cell phone, every gaming device, every iteration of electronic thing that sat in front of the Wonkavision TV Camera and became progressively smaller. The most tombstones in my digital graveyard belong to compact digital cameras.

During the early and mid-aughts, before camera phones proliferated widely, digital cameras were de rigueur. They accompanied us on those days we thought might be noteworthy enough to capture and later upload to Facebook. They were the third but no less important member of the computer/phone/camera trinity. How else were we supposed to make and remember memories?

Declaring that something quasi-living is dead or dying is at this point purely convention. Being apocalyptic, announcing the rise and fall of empires, and the grand decline of things we once held dear is a consequence of human hyperbole. What happened to the compact digital camera is, in fact, much sadder than death. It was demotion.

In a way, it’s the point-and-shoot’s ubiquity that sent it barreling towards obsolescence. Most people just want to be able to take fairly standard photos, and they’ll use whatever is handy — all the better if that device doubles as a phone. Is it possible to imagine a mobile phone, however rudimentary, without a camera in 2013? How would we prove to each other that we had done things, that we were alive and facing a preposterously pink sun dipping into an impossibly blue ocean?

The announcement that “Apple has quietly become a leading camera company” is surprising to absolutely no one. We can picture the plunging graph lines clearly. The decline of the digital camera occurred for much the same reason the human brain grew larger and we started making stone tools. It’s all about evolution and digital cameras just couldn’t keep up.

This is an anecdotal analysis, one born of clocking trends and looking around. Museums, monuments, and other sites of camera use are increasingly point-and-shoot bereft. If people are buying digital cameras they are doing so not to replace their cell phone camera but to far exceed it. What once was a quest to produce the best, cheapest, and smallest digital camera has ebbed towards producing simply a higher-end camera. One that isn’t even trying to compete with what we already have in our cell phones. That too is called evolution.

Where is your camera buried?