Last updateSun, 10 Dec 2023 2pm

Family photos are Americans' most valuable documents, Ricoh survey says

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans say photos are their most valuable documented piece of information - more so than birth certificates, passports, wills and prescriptions.

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But are they at risk?

Families will smile, memories will be captured, and millions of holiday photographs will become Americans' most valuable documents.

That's the case for nearly 1 in 4 Americans (24 percent), who rated family photos as their most valuable documented piece of information, choosing them over their Social Security card (16%), birth certificate (15%), financial information (9%), passports (8%), marriage certificate (6%), kids' first drawings/crafts (4%), health records/immunization/medical prescriptions (3%) and divorce decrees - even their last will & testament (6%).

Ricoh, a global technology company, commissioned an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive, among 3,026 adults within the U.S. during September and October 2013. Women (32%) are twice as likely as men (15%) to say family photos are the most valuable documented piece of information to them.

Although we prize our family photos, we could do a much better job of caring for them. The older they are, the more likely they are to be on paper, having been shot in the pre-digital age (yes, there actually was a pre-digital age). Especially when they're in paper form, we sometimes forget to duplicate photos electronically and keep them where we can find them.

For example, nearly 9 in 10 Americans (87 percent) say their most valuable documented piece of information is paper-based, putting paper photos and other documents at obvious risk for fire, flood, or getting forever buried among junk.

1 in 5 (20%) Americans said they'd previously lost their most valuable documented piece of information, and approximately 3 in 10 (31 percent) said they'd not be able to locate all of their most valuable documented information quickly. Close to 3 in 10 (29 percent) say their most valuable documented piece of information is "barely manageable" (they have things in different places and it's disorganized, but they have it all...somewhere) or a "jumbled mess" (things are all over the place, and they don't know where certain pieces of information are). When this information is a family photo, we're taking chances with our memories.

While it's obvious to be concerned about the hard copy photos and other valuable documents, are you sure your electronic materials are protected? What if your hard drive was damaged or compromised in a fire, flood or theft?

Ricoh has some advice. "If you want to protect important documented information for years to come, particularly cherished family photos that are still in paper form, take a minute to organize them, scan them, but don't stop there. Duplicate the electronic files too, saving the files on an external drive and maybe putting any precious prints in a safe-deposit box," said Terrie Campbell, Vice President, Strategic Marketing, at Ricoh Americas Corporation. "This joyful time of year is a good time to make a New Year's resolution to safeguard what's most important to you."

The paper paradox

It's interesting that 87 percent of Americans said their most valuable documents are paper-based. Wasn't paper supposed to be going away? For example, BusinessWeek Magazine predicted nearly 40 years ago that the office of the future may in fact be paperless. But reports of paper's demise seem greatly exaggerated. In the Ricoh survey, while half (50 percent) of Americans understand the benefits of digital documents they don't believe paper will ever completely go away.

"The fact is that our society still relies on paper even though everyone is trying in good faith to reduce their consumption," said Campbell. "It's still meaningful to hold a paper document in your hand, whether it's a beautiful family portrait or the deed to your house or a marriage certificate. We just need to remind ourselves that we can still get that nostalgic feeling while protecting our information and our world."



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