How many photos have ever been taken?

At the dawn of the new millennium a new technology (that Kodak itself invented) was reshaping the whole industry – the digital photo. When the first few hundred thousand digital cameras shipped in 1997 their memory was strictly limited (in fact cameras like the Sony Mavica took floppy disks[5]!). Digital cameras are now ubiquitous – it is estimated that 2.5 billion people in the world today have a digital camera[6]. If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would be a staggering 375 billion photos. That might sound implausible but this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook, suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there[7]. Already Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress.[8]

The world's largest photo libraries

Even accounting for population growth the exponential growth of photos is incredible (we take 4 times as many photos as 10 year ago).

To me, the Library of Congress represents a repository that holds crucial history, at least the history of select segments of Americana. So I am staggered by the number of digital photos taken, and probably on the increase, in comparison to some important archives. Is the visual record of our culture, history, and social documentation going to be maintained on Facebook? That’s disturbing.

I also thought that Flickr was one of the largest sources of photographs so am surprised by Facebook’s overwhelming dominance. Mind you, there are x number more users on Facebook so that makes sense, and the majority of the pictures taken on Facebook are not as deliberate, or professional, than those on Flickr.

We’re moving towards becoming a world with digital remains. I’m curious what archival studies will look like 50 years from now.

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