A Burst Of Light, The Tang Of Melted Plastic

Kodak Instamatic X-15 Camera

Today’s Idle Thoughts That Consumed Way Too Much Of My Time:

If

I wonder how old the final generation of people to have had their childhood photos taken with a flashbulb are?

and

I wonder how young the first generation of people to have had them taken with a phone camera are?

Let’s eliminate hipster parents from the “flashbulb” question and turbo-nerd parents from the “phone” one. Those people will skew the results. No, I’m thinking about the usual thing where the kid is opening birthday presents, and Mom or Dad takes a photo with whatever it is they use to take pictures.

Flashbulbs are a significant marker because they represent the final era in which mechanical cameras dominated. You clicked a cube on top of a plastic Instamatic and it fired when a mechanical lever punched up into it and struck a primer, which then ignited some flashy-powder. Eventually, even the cheap cameras came with electronic flashes, which were a lot less fuss, but now you’re moving into an era where cheap consumer film cameras have circuit boards and batteries and stuff.

For the second question. we have to decide the year when phone cameras weren’t just good enough to take “real” photos, but also when parents started relying on them instead of a conventional camera. It’s probably not solely a measure of picture quality; it’s also a marker for the arrival of photo sharing infrastructure, and the attitude that we share photos via Facebook and Instagram instead of the postal service.

For flashbulbs: I’m guessing 1982 was the last year when they were common. Subtract ten years for a child’s date of birth and I’d say the last group to have their childhood photos taken with flashbulbs are 43 today.

For phones: well, that’s a tougher call. I mean, I was generally alert during the years in which this particular revolution was happening, so I actually have to replay the tape in my head and pinpoint the signposts. I’m going to declare the iPhone 3GS as the first popular phone with a not-at-all-crap camera. It was released in 2009, which is also prime (if not peak) Facebook time. Let’s say a kid stops having those kinds of birthday parties at age…12? So I’m gonna go with “18.”

Hey, cool! Totally by accident, I’ve chosen answers in which the last kids to get their birthday photos taken with pre-electronic cameras become the first adults to take birthday photos of their kids using phones!

It’s the sort of tidy observation that compels me not to question any of the assumptions that got me there. Why wreck it?