Photographs contain a lot of information on them. There's the image, of course. But they are also stamped with the date and time—that's nothing new; I have black and white snapshots from the 1960s that have the month and year in tiny type under the picture.
But nowadays they'll even tell you where they were taken—that's how I was able to track down the name and address of the bakery in Florence I wrote about last week. The photo had a little map tucked inside. Which is kinda incredible.
There is, however, a downside to all this data tucked into our photos. We lose a certain protective vagueness.
I noticed this Bitcoin machine in April, 2015 in the Merchandise Mart. It was a curious piece of equipment, and I snapped a photo and wrote a blog post about this strange new currency.
I did not, of course, buy any Bitcoins, though the thought crossed my mind. I might buy one for journalistic purposes. I poked at the machine, and came to this conclusion.
I explored the glowing orange machine screen, but it seemed to only work if you already had an account, and given that it accepts only $20s and $100s, I didn't quite see the point of pumping big bucks into it just to then try to find a vendor who would take the Bitcoins my money would become. Where's the benefit in that?The benefit could easily be seen if you look more closely at the glowing screen. A Bitcoin on that day was worth $261.95 (I went online to figure out what Bitcoins cost that day when, looking harder at the photo, I realized the answer right in front of me. One big drawback of so much data is you miss stuff). So if I had gathered together 14 twenties and taken the plunge I would have today ... $9,685, or twice that had I sold my Bitcoin in December before the bubble popped or the tulips wilted or whatever the proper economic metaphor is.
Quite a lot really. About 40 times profit on my investment.
What of it? Regret is vain. And pointless. And something people do all the time, to torment themselves, and the closer their brush with some theoretical path of action, the more they kick themselves for not taking it.
I never had that particular regret—dabbling in crypto-currencies is a kid thing— until I realized I had been standing in front of the machine on such-and-such a date, and began to wonder just how much I left on the table.
What to do? One way to counter such pointless regrets is with what I'll call counter regrets. It isn't as if the only way the past can be viewed is through the lens of actions you should have done but didn't. There are also the actions you shouldn't have done and didn't.
In 1999, I went to New York to take the Empire State to Europe with my father for a book I was writing. We were standing on a street corner in Manhattan. The light changed and I started to step forward. He grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back just as a bicycle messenger shot past so close I could feel the wind. I'm glad he did that, I could have been clobbered. But I wasn't. Shame I don't have a picture.
But I do have the lesson. Which is: why feel bad about the good stuff that didn't happen when you can feel good about the bad stuff that also didn't happen? Or try to anyway.