Monday, August 04, 2008

One hour photo - for now

Almost obsolete
San Francisco, CA, July 2008

I'm just old enough to remember photography in the pre-digital era. The process was as simple as it was time-honored:

First, you bought film. Then you took pictures oh so sparingly because this stuff was expensive. Then you took your precious film to the photo lab and waited for them to develop it. You'd fill in the envelope, slip the film inside, seal it carefully and then drop it in the box and wait. And wait. And wait some more. It usually took a week, sometimes more. Occasionally it would get lost. And when your phone rang with the good news that your film was back, you gleefully skipped back to the store to pick it up. More often than not, your trembling fingers would already have ripped the envelope open before you had gotten out of the store.

Ah, the good old days of photography.

Then along came one-hour processing. Because our emerging hurry-up-and-wait world lacked the patience to hold its breath for a week while film canisters made their way to and from distant labs. Oh sure, we could still get the old, slow processing if we really wanted it. But why bother when for a 50% price premium, we could have it almost now? A new industry was born. Fotomat became indelibly burned into 1970s culture - such as it was - and a whole slew of ever-faster service options began to litter the consumer landscape. Drive-through banking, anyone?

Digital has, of course, turned one-hour photo services into quaint reminders of the way things used to be. Sure, people still shoot film. And digital photographers continue to rely on stores for high-quality, ridiculously cheap prints. While it's possible to print them at home now, the per-page costs make trips to the Walgreens a necessity when it's time to turn those bits into something a little more physical.

So as I walked along a San Francisco street and saw this sign, I had to stop and wonder how long the sign would still be there. Did the term have any meaning for the teens and twentysomethings taking pictures with their cameraphones? I doubt it. I wonder how many other demographically iconic phrases are also heading for obsolescence.

Your turn: OK, I realize that last sentence really was a question. What other phrases, sayings, businesses, trademarks or whatever are going the way of the dodo? Things like full-service gas stations, record stores, free tell!

One more thing: The good folks here at Written Inc. continue to whore themselves limitlessly to boost participation in the two weekly extravaganzas, Caption This and Thematic Photographic. Hit the links to ensure you don't miss out.


Canadian Mark said...

I love the blank stares I get when I talk to somebody younger than 20 about the niceties of dial-up internet (I had a 36.6K modem when 28.8 was considered fast!)

I remember we all couldn't wait for the invention of some gadget that would allow us to use our phone line without having to disconnect from the internet first - or at least be able to see if there was an incoming call trying to get through.

I know... Not really a catch-phrase or trademark, but it's what your post made me think of.

It all seemed so cutting edge and in the moment then, and yet it's so archaic by our blue-tooth, high-speed, gigabyte thumb-drive standards of today.

Dianne - Bunny Trails said...

PAY PHONES. Whenever I see one, I kind of marvel that they still exist. Obviously there is a small market for them. Oftentimes it's at the 7-11 or mini-mart.

Have you ever looked at one, though? The rates are ridiculous! You pay a whole lot for something like 3 minutes.

Remember when we used to leave our houses and if someone called, no one answered? And it was okay. They would call back.

What about a busy signal? Same response - just call back.

Not only that, but how about the mystery of having NO idea who was calling you? No caller ID. And that was just fine, because the only people calling were people you actually wanted to talk with. Unless, of course, it was a wrong number. Or a prank call. No more prank calls these days. You're so totally busted between caller ID, *69, and highly detailed phone bills.

Sigh. Some days I love technology. Others, I long for the simple ring (and they were all the same - you actually knew it was the telephone) and a rotary dial. My kids will never know what the missed.

kenju said...

In the days before I owned a digital camera, and when my business was going strong, I spent up to $500+ per year on photos and film and batteries. Now, I am hard-pressed to spend much more than $25 (for lithium batteries) and it is so freeing to know that you can shoot all darn day and night and it won't cost any more!!

Derek said...

rofl. I can remember having to take film to get developed back in the day. We would always check in "the drawer" to see how many other rolls of film there were in there to take with us for developing.
Those were always a bonus. A surprise awaited us on every roll we found on those rolls. We would always talk about them when we got the pictures back. It was always fun to see what treasures those rolls in drawer held.
As much as I love digital photography, I hoestly miss the surprises those rolls hold.

Ryanne said...

I am pretty sure that the good 'ol movie rental stores are on their way out. Just look and all the new ways to get and watch the movies that are coming out. There is netflix and buying or renting at itunes, and the red box, just to name a few. Soon Blockbusters and Hollywood Video will be things from the past, just like the 8-track and the old reel to reel tapes.

Mojo said...

I only made the switch to digital less than 2 years ago (January of '07) but for the last 10 or so years I was "splitting the difference". I shot film, yes, but I had (still have) a film scanner that allowed me to scan negatives and (*gasp*) slides (anybody remember those?). I could get my film processed without prints for about $2 a roll. I bought the bulk packs which brought the film cost down to about $3.50-ish per roll. But I still had to schlep a dozen rolls or more to a hockey game (and yes, I would shoot them all -- and need more) which was damned inconvenient. Not to mention all the stuff I'd miss while in the process of changing rolls.

Then I finally broke down and ponied up for the digital equivalent of my EOS A2. And the first thing I noticed was my arms would get tired shooting during warmups. (I didn't get the built-in break I used to have to take to change rolls!)

My oldest son might remember when we didn't have a computer in the house. When he was born (1982) "personal computers" were an expensive novelty that not just everybody could afford. His younger brother, born 5 years later, was actually born before we bought our first of many, but his most technology free memories would be of the time when we only had one computer in the house.

And every time I have plans salvaged by a quick call on the mobile, I wonder what we did before we had them. What's more puzzling to me though is that, no matter how easy technology has made the means, communication between people still hasn't gotten any better.

Star said...

We still offer 1-day photo processing whee I work. There is usually one or two a day to go out to be processed, and usually they are the one use cameras. When my grandson was small I remember seeing the tradtional pull toy- the dial telephone- still on the toy store shelves. I never got it for him because he wouldn't know what it was.

MorahMommy said...

I love that we never have to worry about "wasting" a shot. We can shoot to hearts content. I love being able to see our lives...captured in the moment. It's fun to be able to sit at the computer and look through pictures

But before we had digital photography we used to develop all the pictures we took. We had albums of our life.

Now, we keep promising ourselves that once a month we will choose photos and print them up. Alas, it doesn't happen.

Maybe next month!

Sandy said...

My beloved Nikon D80 is in the shop. It was time to take the annual kid photo in black and white - something I did not trust to my back up digital point-and-shoot. I pulled out the old Nikon N65 and a roll of black and white film. Wow, talk about a weird experience. Walking back into that drug store with my canister of film in one hand, staring at that envelope wondering what it was I was suppose to write was just weird. ;)

Hope all is well Carmi.

Ken DV said...

We were at a Mexican restaurant that had a wall display with hundreds of Polaroids of people that celebrated their birthday at this restaurant. They couldn't take my sister's picture because they could no longer get Polaroid film.

Anonymous said...

411 directory assistance, directions to destinations unknown, the wrist watch (unless purely for pomp) and carrying photos in your wallet have all become obsolete thanks to modern technology.