It’s Almost 2019. Do You Know Where Your Photos Are?

But online photo collections kept growing — where else would we go? Newer, more credible services hustled for users. Storage practices didn’t get revised, they accumulated: Photos lived on old discs and drives, moving from site to site, cloud to cloud, from Photobucket to Flickr to Facebook and back, or maybe just waiting on ever-larger SD cards. (Those die, too.)

“The thing I’ve come across with my clients is not necessarily ‘How do I store them?’ but ‘How do I move them to the newest application?’” said Kaitlyn Ackron, a 17-year-old student in Rio Rancho, N.M., who provides tech support for seniors through an organization called Teeniors.

They worry about accidentally deleting photos from their phones, said Ms. Ackron, who shows them the “Recently Deleted” folder. They’re alarmed when they can’t see old images on a new computer. (The storage device is no longer compatible.)

“There have been quite a few people frustrated with that kind of stuff,” said Yannick Hutchinson, a 23-year-old student who also works with Teeniors. New and subtler forms of online storage, working in the backgrounds of our smartphones, cause particular anxiety. “The storage is not on their phone, but out there on this supposed cloud,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “They’re like, ‘Well, where is it?’”

Now, again, with services like iCloud, the tech industry is promising us all the space we need. This time, however, it has barely felt the need to pitch us. Photo glut is a common condition.

In a world where images are increasingly created on smartphones only to be shared on smartphones — where a camera roll is at once a photo inbox, outbox, a storage unit and junk drawer, and is, as an archive, an incomprehensible stream of context-free media — the question of where all this media will go in the future has been shoved aside. The more urgent question is: What are we supposed to do with it right now?

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