Modern Life

For digital natives, the most important memories must be printed

Printed photos are seeing a revival as people seek out new ways to connect in a digital world.

By Garage Staff — December 1, 2017

Bryn Lowe is a child of the digital age. Like many of her generation, she grew up learning from and working on screens rather than the printed page. But with the birth of her first child, the 32-year-old marketer realized that screens just don’t offer the depth of experience that printed images do.

“If you’re staring at a computer, it can feel like it’s just screen time,” she says. “Having photos printed in a book makes them feel a little more special — more important and more permanent.”

The emotional connection to print is real.

g-stockstudio/Getty Images

The emotional connection to print is real.

And Lowe is not alone.

The death of print is often proclaimed regularly and loudly. Physical books, newspapers, magazines and photos were thought to be buried forever more under an avalanche of smartphones, social feeds and gadgets like digital picture frames.

But a surprising thing happened in the race to the all-digital future: Print is still with us. In fact, it’s growing stronger.

“We seem to forget that we gauge the world with all of our senses — with sight, with smell, with touch, with sound,” says David Sax, author of “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter.” “[That’s why] the greeting-card business is doing great. You’re signifying your relationship in a way that a Facebook birthday greeting — writing on someone’s wall — just doesn’t get across.”

Studies support that assessment. Researchers have long found that there's less of an emotional connection when something is seen on a screen rather than in a physical book, flyer or other printed material. They’ve even discovered that viewing an image on a screen versus seeing the same image on a sheet of paper affects different parts of the brain.

“For my parents, preservation means [getting photos] to be digital. For me, it’s the opposite: It’s printing things out because I’m afraid of having a corrupt hard drive or of having a computer stolen.”    

Bryn Lowe, a 32-year old digital native and new mother

Meanwhile, we are inundated with digital images. More than 1.3 trillion photos are expected to be shot in 2017, up from just 80 billion in 2000, all hidden away in our devices or the digital cloud. Therein lies another rub: Out of sight too often means out of mind.

Brady Cabe, a 33-year-old photographer whose work has been featured on, says “before I started printing, this is what I did with my photos: take photos, edit photos, post to Facebook, Instagram, whatever, maybe blog it, and then poof: The images just went into oblivion.” In his workshops, he teaches his students to always “print that baby out!”

Another important reason to print: the risk of losing your photos altogether. 

Lowe notes that “for my parents, preservation means scanning things and getting them to be digital. For me, preservation is the opposite: It’s printing things out because I’m afraid of having a corrupt hard drive or of having a computer stolen.”

Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf has warned that “this is starting to happen to people who are saving a lot of their digital photographs — because they’re just files of bits,” he explains. When the software that was available when you took the photos is upgraded, “the [new] file system doesn’t know how to interpret [those bits]…so the images are no longer visible. Now you’ve lost the photograph.” His advice: “Print them out.”


Why are we still drawn to print? Read our interview with “The Revenge of Analog” author David Sax.