Before the digital age, capturing and trawling through our memories was a little bit different. The family would gather together in front of a likely object of interest and someone would squint unbecomingly while pressing their camera to their face, with a command for everyone to 'look at the birdie!' A few weeks later the reel of film would be taken in to be processed and you'd find yourself paying for twenty-four photos of fingers over lenses, blurry images of the ground, and posed family portraits comprised of forced smiles and children looking at the sky in confusion. The photos would then be slotted into albums and put in the cupboard, rarely to be seen again.
Luckily, technology has seen to quite a 'development' in this ritual, so that we can select to print only the photos in which we look fantastic and instantly delete the ones where we look like Steve Buscemi with a hangover. It's also easier than ever to share and access our memories through the power of email and social media.
So what about our pre-digital memories? Something people always say they would risk their lives to save if their house was burning down is their old photos (coming in somewhere after family members and before the lopsided beige cardigan knitted by grandma in the list of irreplaceable items). Clearly, they are highly valued invaluables - and yet how often do we look at them?
The first thing to do is to make sure they are safe. Investing in a scanner is a good idea, and you can pick them up for under $150 new and a lot less second-hand. Scan all your priceless memories and suddenly you have the same ability to share them easily with friends and family all over the world as we do with digital photos, and you can save copies on storage devices and stash them in multiple locations so that you never lose them (you could even bury a USB somewhere, time-capsule style, for some mutant human of the future to find in another millennium).
Once you've got your old photos scanned, there are plenty of things that can be done to make the most of your memories.
One idea is to get on Facebook and upload the most embarrassing pictures you have (of other people). Tag a photo of your cousin, at age seven, with a mushroom haircut and frilled socks, or of your brother, at age three, wearing nothing but a flap hat and elastic sided boots, or your best friend, at age fourteen, kissing a photo of her junior high-school boyfriend (who you can also tag - hunt him down and add him as a friend if necessary) then sit back and prepare to be entertained as your nearest and dearest are cyber-humiliated.
If you are a generous sort, you can also upload and tag photos of yourself in scenarios everyone else would want to remember and you would rather forget.
Another idea is to print fond memories to display in your home. The beauty of having a soft copy is in being able to manipulate history. Got a lovely family photo that unfortunately has that wastrel, ex-Uncle Moe in it? Crop! Found a fantastic picture of you and your friends on your early-twenties road trip but you all look like devils incarnate? Red eye reduction!
Printing and framing a much-loved moment captured on film and giving it to a friend or family member is also a great gift idea. It needn't be expensive, unless you want to put your chosen photo in a frame of diamonds and gold, but it is personal and thoughtful and means that the memory can be enjoyed every day by the person you shared it with.
On the subject of gifts, if a loved-one has a milestone birthday coming up, a video montage of their life thus far can be made for the entertainment of party guests using a combination of old and new photos. This can be done in the style of the Facebook idea, but with the added bonus of having a live audience.
If you're not quite up to montage making, most photography shops or specialty printing stores will print images on just about anything you care to name. Find an ancient and embarrassing photo of the birthday girl or boy (or a nice photo if you're not really a sadist, but honestly there's no fun in being nice) and have it emblazoned on cups or balloons or whatever object you choose with some appropriate commentary for the event.
If you're interested in family history, another idea is to make a presentation of generations. For this you would need a multi-photo frame. If you have old photos of your ancestors, you can frame them in progression of each generation, for example, a woman might frame her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her mother, herself, and her daughter.
For dramatic effect, try to find photos of each person at roughly the same age and change the tones so that they are all in sepia or black and white. It can be an interesting exercise. Perhaps you'll find the same pretty eyes looking back at you from each one. Or perhaps you'll start resenting great-granny June for passing down the wonky nose gene. It could go either way.