I recently cleaned out almost all my folders full of screen grabs. I take screen grabs often, reflexively. Gotta save that--CMND-SHIFT-3--*click*. I used to do it every time I made an internet transaction as a backup record, but I finally decided to trust web-based commerce and stopped doing that. I still take them to (for instance) get images of maps, to get just the right still image from a video, to snag any image I want to manipulate and can't grab easily off a browser. Ca-click.
The thing I didn't expect when I started sorting out all these screen grabs, though, is to get a funny little record of my life through what was going on in the background at the time--snapshots of my whole 'desktop' workspace. The things I was trying to record seem much less interesting than the context around them: the layered windows showing chats, dialog boxes, error messages, lists of things to do, old threads on web boards, saved projects on my desktop, open Wikipedia pages, chatroom lists, Youtube videos, files saved out on my desktop as reminders, TV schedules, open email messages, iSight images....
I can see evidence of my impatience, vague internet wanderings, stalkings, pet obsessions, procrastination, friendships come and gone, interests, haircuts, writing, hamster-like pressings of the internet lever, over and over and over. I can see how I use my computer (there are lots of images that show the volume being turned up on screen, which I am usually doing during a screen grab to make sure that it "took" by the ca-click sound). I can see change and meaning even in the really pedestrian stuff--old versions of software, replaced graphics on web pages. Basically you can see time passing.
It's kind of like watching an old videotape on which you recorded a program and finding yourself more fascinated by the commercials than the show. Or watching ESPN Classic and being more interested in all the hairdos and clothing in the stands than the sporting event itself. All that stuff ends up being way more engaging.
Engaging, and documenting our view of the world that is more and more of the world of media, not just through it. As media becomes a more interwoven part of our lives (what an old-fart phrase that is), not a somewhat discreet occurrence--sampling our existence on a second-by-second basis (Facebook updates, iPhone pix, security cameras)--our view of things is more multi-layered and managed and dates itself faster and bigger. It's weird to see the view out my eyes from one year ago, or two or three. Stuff changes fast.
Maybe all these screen grabs are really more like those experiments in which they attach a camera to a cat's head and over the course of a day get images of blurred sofa cushions and water dishes and squirrels outside the window. Our funny little ankle-high mammalian view of technology.