The Beauty of Deleting Photos by Anran Li

Emptying out Google Photos may be the single most beautiful thing I have ever experienced.

Recently, I merged the entire family album online to Google Photos. Previously, we all shared an Apple iCloud account, and this resulted in every internet call ringing all of our devices at the same time. Using separate Apple accounts but one Google account lets us collect photos from all of our devices while keeping communication very clear. Google even runs algorithms on the photos so we can search for visual objects such as someone's face, Niagara Falls, a squirrel, or a specific hue of green. It allows us to navigate thousands of unsorted photos.

The most enticing part of this setup is that Google offers free, unlimited storage if you allow them to slightly compress the pictures first. I won't get into the technical details, but given current technology, this is an unprecedented deal given the quality of the compressed photos. I jump the gun at free unlimited storage and upload everything to be compressed, only for a small part of my brain react as though a tourist had forgotten to turn off flash while photographing an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.

After much deliberation, I switch to uploading at original quality. However, it turns out that the service would not allow you re-upload the photos. I would have to trick Google into thinking the photos were new by deleting all of the old ones. It seemed easy, except there was no fast way to delete all of the photos. (I tried deleting the Google Photos folder on Drive: this just makes it hidden from view.) Ultimately, one has to delete the photos hundreds at a time from the web interface. Being too ambitious with your selection will return an error.

Deleting photos is an odd feeling, even if you know the photos are coming back, or that they are stored safely somewhere else. It feels like you are deciding which memories are going to be forgotten. Thus, as I scroll through the photos app, deleting everything, it was as though my entire life was on rewind and being forgotten. Entire blocks were deleted before even being loaded, while some photos received a few milliseconds of glory between each scroll of the wheel.

Some people believe that your life flashes backwards in your mind right before you die, and I imagine this is how it must feel: A high speed, relentless purging of memories. Some photos are deleted with cold methodology, but others make you feel sorry for the tiny humans in the frame, moving towards oblivion. Still others require a triple mental check that the photos are indeed going to be restored afterwards.

After hours on end, the months and years roll by until I reach my childhood photos, the entire collection of which could be deleted in one go. It amazes me that the photos from the first ten years of my life take up as much memory as a single photo taken with my current camera - it seems to be the same way for older memories. I scroll through slow enough so that the thumbnails could load. I'd seen these photos many times, but I always react as though the photos are new.

Finally, the scroll bar stops. In one fell swoop, I select all of the remaining photos, delete them, and find a sterile, blank white page for me to start anew.