Photography as we know it is the capture of a durable image using a camera (a shortened form of camera obscura, Latin for "Darkened Room").
Early photography was a highly technical process, requiring photographers to be skilled chemists, and the process was restricted to a few who could afford to devote their lives to the undertaking. This changed drastically in 1888 when George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera, a fixed-focus box camera using roll film. By the time the Kodak Brownie was released in 1900, film cartridges (using a light proof paper backing) allowed film to be changed in daylight, and film processing was becoming a spreading industry. Anyone could now take pictures. Eastman's slogan "You press the button. We do the rest." brought photography into the hands of the general public. Family gatherings, personal events, and travel were being recorded by anyone with a camera.
Over the past century, not much has changed. Yes we have seen significant changes and improvements in technology, but the mass market for cameras is still there. In this digital age, chemical proesses for photography have all but disappeared. Point and shoot cameras have been incorporated into cell phones, which most people now have with them wherever they go. What has not changed is people's desire to capture and keep images of what they are doing, where they are, and who they are with.
"Serious photographers" have been lamenting the point and shoot proliferation ever since the Brownie was introduced. Many think that it erodes the importance of what they do, and infringes on their industry. This is absolute nonsense.
Without the mass market, the technology we have to do our serious photography would not be available. Camera companies compete for market share, and photographic supply is dependent on that market. Look at what happened when the Hunt brothers cornered the silver market. Film prices went through the roof in early 1980, and demand exceeded supply. A number of professional photographers went out of business because they could not buy film to do their work. Rather than making an indecent profit, the Hunt brothers found themselves in court. The CCD (charge coupled device) went from being an extremely expensive unit used strictly in scientific applications, to a mass market device, and photography went digital. The first megapixel device was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1986.
By the early 1990's film prices had stabilized, but the advent of the internet became a driving force. The first image was published to the web in 1992, and today millions of people share their photos, good bad and indifferent, on the web.
The vast majority of these people are not photographers. They are simply people who take pictures. Point and shoot technology means they do not have to be photographers to record their memories. When they look at the photo of a friend, they do not critique the exposure, focus, or composition. They are too wrapped up in recalling the times they had together.
As a photographer, when I go on a trip I take my equipment with me. I don't want to miss the opportunity to do photography in new surroundings. However, if I attend a wedding, I take my cell phone. If I brought my equipment, I would be working. As a guest, I use point and shoot to record the memories.