The Photo Album Is Your Phone’s New Junk Drawer

We’re taking screenshots and saving random images just as much as we are taking photos.

The most recent photo in my phone’s photo roll; I saved it from an email.

Sometime in the last year or so, I noticed a change when I looked at my phone’s camera roll: Quite simply, a lot of the saved images weren’t taken by me at all. Instead, the roll was composed of a lot of screenshots made on my phone, other people’s photos I had saved from texts or emails, and other random images saved from the web.

Thinking back, the change seems to have come roughly around the same time Snapchat began to get popular. With Snapchat, I started screenshotting on my phone more than ever before (often times failing to capture the photo in time, leaving me with a dumb screenshot of the menu page). Perhaps it’s just a side effect of more powerful phones and better mobile browsers and apps that let us access content with relative ease. Part of treating our phones more like computers includes making a mess of screenshots and downloaded funny images to save for later.

And when we do actually use the camera function, the photos we take are often not the ones we’re going to post to Instagram or Facebook. The camera function is quickly becoming a note-taking, information-saving app. Casey N. Cep wrote in the New Yorker about how she has been using her phone’s camera as a tool to capture quick notes instead of writing things down.

Looking through my photo stream, there is a caption about Thomas Jefferson smuggling seeds from Italy, which I want to research; a picture of a tree I want to identify, which I need to send to my father; the nutritional label from a seasoning that I want to re-create; and a man with a jungle of electrical cords in the coffee shop, whose picture I took because I wanted to write something about how our wireless lives are actually full of wires. Photography has changed not only the way that I make notes but also the way that I write. Like an endless series of prompts, the photographs are a record of half-formed ideas to which I hope to return.

We’re posting more and more photos to social media, and our phones are filling up with images faster and faster. But I suspect that the rate at which we add new images to our phones is much greater than the rate we’re actually posting to Instagram.

To see if I was the only one whose camera roll had changed its makeup from real (i.e., taken with the camera) photos to screenshots/saved images, I asked people on Twitter to share their most recent image. Indeed, the majority of the images were not their own organic snapshots.

Here’s a little bit of what people’s camera rolls look like these days:

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