We have here an ordinary pack of 600 film, expired October 1998. Probably dried up, with a dead battery too; unlikely to produce photos (though I’ll try it).

But it’s the back of the box that’s interesting. It displays an advertisement for a product known as the Polaroid PhotoPad, a little digital scanner dedicated to turning Polaroid instant photos into digital files.

Can you just smell the awkwardness and desperation? You can hear it even in the tone-deaf ad copy: It suggests that you “use Polaroid instant photos … to put electronic images into your computer.” Via the Internets, I guess.

By 1998, AOL was roaring, eBay was rising, and when I went on a business trip I saw a colleague use a digital camera to take snapshots for the first time. (He e-mailed them to me from Australia after we each got home, and that’s the story, right there.) At the time, Polaroid’s stated attitude toward digital photography was “all roads lead to a print.” It was a reasonable assumption—and turned out to be utterly wrong. Within a few years, smartphones would completely replace the plastic accordion in your wallet. Today’s casual photographers store 10,000 photos on their computers, and carry a few hundred on their phones, and store everything in the cloud. Parents print out maybe three, for the bulletin board at work and for the grandparents.  And Polaroid, regrettably, didn’t make that phone—though it’s finally trying.

I don’t know how many PhotoPads were sold, but I’ll tell you this: Listed on eBay right now, there are about 8,300 Polaroid cameras, and exactly one Polaroid PhotoPad.

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