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Thank God You Don’t Need to Back Up Photos Anymore

When I got my first Mac back in late October of 2013 — seven years ago, one of my Christmas gifts was a Toshiba hard drive. It was on sale and it was 2 TB. It must have been under 100 Canadian dollars because at the time, I thought 2 TB was plenty, especially as that Mac only had 256 GB of storage.

But when you get a laptop and a phone, your digital needs start to evolve. Now, I have multiple hard drives, 2 for backups and 3 for backups for that backup.

When I was growing up, digital data loss was normal. I have lost many, many family photos because I was one of those people who only had one copy of their data. When people back up their stuff, a lot of them delete the original copy from their computer. And so, they get into a big situation where their data is on a ticking time bomb, having no cheap alternative to even get their memories back.

Due to this, I have hoarded and duplicated many files, keeping them on my hard drives as long as possible, and have so much duplicate files laying around in every USB drive, external hard drive, and cloud storage service I had. Deleting files was stressful. “Do I have a backup of this?” “Did I just delete the only photo of that?”

What my digital life looks like.

As a person who lives a minimal life in the real world, the same can’t be said for my digital life.

Enter Google Photos. Google Photos came at a weird time where Apple was still making phones with 16 gigabytes of storage standard and Google was beginning to grow their machine learning computation. (Because regular users are great guinea pigs, right?)

A year after its 2015 launch, Google released the Pixel smartphone. It came with a phenomenal industry-changing camera that also promised free unlimited storage of full-resolution photos captured from the device.

The original Pixel, used to advertise Google Photos and its machine learning capabilities.

However, for the rest of us (and even some future Pixel phones), this “free unlimited storage” came with some fine print: if you let Google recompress your image to 16 megapixels. If you decide to store the raw, unaltered image, it uses your Google Drive storage (15 GB, standard). Many tests have shown that the difference is almost indiscernable. As someone who cares about resolution, bitrate, and megapixels, I gladly paid for the Google Drive storage to ensure all my iPhone photos stay crisp. Oh, I also store video and I definitely don’t want those compressed.

For most people, this is fine, however. It’s more about the content than the megapixels. Memories are unquantifiable and unable to be compared to digital bits on a flash chip.

When Google Photos was launched, I opened up every device I owned. iPad 4th generation. iPhone 4s. iPhone 6. Nexus 5. Every single hard drive. And I uploaded every photo. Every family photo. Every family vacation. Every horrendous selfie. Every bar outing. And even the meaningless screenshots.

Not only did I have my photos FINALLY organized by date, but Google occasionally provides interesting surprises with the photos you decide to upload. I remember one person getting a slideshow video of their daughter growing up from the hospital all the way to their teenage years. Needless to say, it made that person cry. Google used to call this “Auto-Awesome”, they now just call it the Assistant. But I still call it “Auto-Awesome” because it repackages memories beyond just “a family vacation” or “this particular day”. It repackages memories to provide a burst of nostalgia at the worst moments of your day.

Thanks, Google.

People are living in an era where they can just delete photos off their computers and it is completely safe. They incentivize with computational photography and machine learning algorithms to help you deal with any photo, whether it’s a random meme on the internet, your child’s first birthday party, or trying to find that one picture of that animal at the zoo.

No more backing up your backups. No more needing to buy hard drives upon hard drives. And if it gets people to backup, I am ALL here for it.

That neighbour bringing I.T. guys out of business on a regular basis. You can find me taking photos in weird angles and lurking the PopHeads subreddit.