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I spent a day with elephants, and the DVD they gave me is almost useless

Commentary: It's good news when the elephant conservation people give you a DVD of your time with the unforgettable pachyderms. It's bad news when you realize none of your computers can read it.

I'm pretty sure that my afternoon with some Asian elephants of northern Thailand was a highlight of my life -- it certainly was an unforgettable part of my 19-day tech tour of Asia.


Click to read more of Jessica's tech travels in Asia!

Mark Hobbs/CNET

Like most creatures, these elephants are astounding and surprising in their own way, and being clobbered by a two-hundred pound baby and feeding a pregnant pachyderm bananas undeniably reinforced for me the concept of interconnectedness with living things. Also, it was crazy fun.

So when the organization handed each of us carers-for-a-day our own DVDs filled with 646 photos and 37 videos, I was relieved. The muddy, dirty work means your camera stays where it is, so these will make up the bulk of my photos.

But I also had to laugh. I have almost no way to read the photo DVD.

My laptop, a Macbook Air, lacks an optical drive, and ditto for the laptops around me in the office and in my apartment. My friends similarly have slimmed-down machines without DVD-reading drives.

5-month Nam-phu is heavier than he looks.

Jessica Dolcourt

Shifting technology nearly shifted me out of being able to read this DVD for myself, without buying or begging from my extended network a bridging tech solution, or paying a photography outfit to scoop out the files. Luckily, I still have my parents, who can be counted on for retaining a hulking desktop rig with multiple DVD drives and tons of external storage. Without their help, recovering these precious pictures would have been a lot harder.

Losing photo archives to changing technology is something I've thought about before. In the spring 2016 issue of CNET Magazine, I wrote about the different ways we could lose hold of the memories we share online, not to scare people with some digital doomsday message, but to highlight the irony that maybe the best way to protect this photographic evidence is to print out physical photo books, something tangible to hold onto and to revisit again and again.

So yes, I'll be downloading all the photos my folks put on Dropbox and turning this day at the elephant park into a big, splashy coffee table book (probably using Mixbook). The photos are too good to let molder in some forgettable online locker, and this way, my own two eyes will be the only "optical drive" I'll need.