The Business of Business on the Internet

In the late 1990s, the Internet saved a lot of stagnated careers, mine included.

Business America realized that they needed a web presence in order to keep up with the Joneses, and the demand for writers, photographers, graphic artists, and eventually, web developers skyrocketed. I landed a job with O'Reilly Media that turned out to be the best gig I've ever had.

What I liked about the decade that followed, what I call the Golden Age of Internet, was that writers and their counterparts were respected. We were paid a good wage, had regular benefits, and we were able to influence the direction of the companies we worked for.

At the same time, we could start our own publishing endeavors. The Internet was wide open and non-discriminating... as long as you didn't have to make money there (with the notable exceptions of porn, gambling, and sweater sales).

I launched in 2005. Apple had just added podcasts to the iTunes app, and I wanted to be a part of online broadcasting. So I bought a mic, plugged it into my Mac, and started my own show. There was no revenue model, only my desire to spread the gospel of digital photography. I didn't realize at the time that my online hobby would soon have to evolve into my career.

Around 2010 the Golden Age of Internet descended into business as usual. Most companies had their online infrastructures built, and they began to replace professional writers and other creatives with entry-level help to lower costs. 

The Internet devolved from "the place you had to be," to a just another revenue stream. As writers continued to lose their jobs, they also saw a decline in freelance gigs that had once helped to support them. Paid assignments dropped from $1 a word to pennies. Suddenly photographers and writers were offered work for "exposure" instead of a paycheck. If you didn't want to do it, someone else would.

The noise level also increased dramatically. The next phase, The Age of Social Media, replaced craft with quantity. There are still great artists out there, probably more than ever, but it's harder to find them. And they are once again struggling financially.

Companies fell in love with Facebook accounts that became the reality shows of the Internet. Articles were replaced with snapshots and cutlines. And substantial writing gigs were in short supply.

So what follows next? At some point, if not already, we'll tire of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and look for something else. Twitter in particular, has become one of the harshest places online.  And Facebook is now part of the political agenda.

As a writer and artist, my hope is for a Renaissance of quality content. I'm already seeing a glimmer with the excellent programming on Netflix, compared to the painfully dull output from network television.

But it's hard to predict where the business of business will lead us. And my gut feeling is that the dawn of the Internet was an opportunity that we'll never see again.


The Extinction of Ice Cube Trays

When I was eight years old, we used ice cube trays instead of the automatic dispensers that come standard with refrigerators today.

As a family, we weren't very organized in our approach. Instead of emptying both trays into a container, then refilling them both at once, we would instead take singles out of each tray until one unlucky family member was left with a single cube. Then, to add insult, that person (usually my sister) would have to refill both trays.

I just spent a week at WildSPEAK, where some of the best conservation photographers in the world came together to tell their stories. Their images were projected upon a hazy backdrop of our country's direction toward its stewardship of the planet's health.

Conservation photographers are different than you or I. They tend to be scientists and naturalists first, using their imaging prowess to illustrate their findings. So every story includes a healthy dose of the research behind it.

As a group, they are not alarmists. But neither are they shy about discussing where the data are pointing. I know there were many moments throughout the week when I was more emotional than the presenters.

But that's their job. No one, especially these days, wants to listen to a whining, bleeding heart lamenting the loss of polar bears. But to show breathtaking images of them in their declining habitat, and discuss how that situation also affects us... well, that's adult talk. And I think adult talk should be respected.

When I think about what I can do for my boys, I don't want to leave a mess for them to clean up. Or even worse, a problem that cannot be fixed. Sounds simple, doesn't it? And yet, I feel like I'm failing them. 

In the final analysis, conservation policies are really about protecting people. And if we can save the big cats and elephants along the way, all the better. I don't think a lot of folks realize that scientists are really talking about their family, their friends, and their quality of life. 

And that's why I don't understand why this message isn't resonating. Personally, I do care about the African wildlife population. I love diversity of species on this planet. But I also understand why some other's don't. They just can't relate to it. Fair enough.

But what parent doesn't care about their child? That is something that Americans can agree upon, right?

I was lucky growing up. When I turned the faucet handle in the kitchen, there was always fresh water to refill the ice cube trays (the few times that I actually did it). I had no idea at the time what a blessing that mundane task was. 

But then again, I was kid. And a kid shouldn't have to think about such things.


Calm in the Face of the Wind

The first time I set foot in Reykjavik, I was will 11 other photographers anxious to prove their worth. It was unspoken, but clearly felt.

At that time, a decade ago, I was unknown compared to the others. Yet there I was. And I wanted to find my place among them. The book "Lost in Iceland" was popular in 2006. The feeling was familiar.

Ten years later, I returned with more photographers. This time, I was older than my comrades, and I no longer wrote for a major publication, as they did. I was sovereign in the land of independent people, and quite fine with that.

It's interesting when you no longer care what happens outside your craft. Whether I was exploring an uphill street in Reykjavik, walking along the black sands of Vik, or marveling at the steam rising out of a mountain, it was just me, the land, and my camera. 

I carried less gear than anyone. In my mirrorless shoulder bag, I packed the OM-D E-M1 Mark II that we were testing for Olympus. I had two lenses for it, the 12-100mm f/4, and the 25mm f/1.2. I brought along my versatile TG-4 to record GPS coordinates and capture shots for social media, since we were not allowed to publish shots from the E-M1 quite yet. And that was all I needed... other than warmth.

I had no less than four layers of clothing at any given time: a thermal long sleeve, collared shirt, down vest, and waterproof overcoat. I complemented this outfit with a stocking cap, scarf, and gloves. And there were many moments when I was still cold.

But this was a great adventure, and I wanted to feel every biting moment of it. Walking down darkened snow-covered trails to capture the Northern lights, watching hail stones bounce off astonished visitors then settle on the ancient moss, and feeling the icy spray of a waterfall on my face - this was Iceland, and I was immersed.

There were many moments when I enjoyed the company of my travel mates, but kept to myself otherwise. I never felt lonely or judged. I ate Iceland hotdogs for breakfast and drank local beer at night. In-between, I was focused on the stunning landscape before me. 

I thought about how nervous I was 10 years ago when I first visited Reykjavik. As it turned out, my apprehension unwarranted. I made a good showing then.

But this time, I belonged the instant I stepped off the plane, to Iceland itself. 

"Who's the tall guy with the small camera bag?"

"I don't know, but I think he's been here before."

So true, in so many ways.



Changes in a Decade

My first visit to Iceland was in August, 2006. I was a member of the "Lightroom 12" team, there to test Adobe's answer to Aperture in the beautiful and desolate Icelandic landscape.

In less than a week, I'll be landing in Reykjavík again. As I was packing my bag, I thought about how my gear has changed over those 10 years.

In 2006, my go-to camera was the Canon 5D with a new 24-105mm f/4 L zoom lens. This optic on that hefty DSLR body was a formidable tandem in its day. The resolution wasn't that high, 12MP, but the full frame sensor combined with good low light performance provided the quality and versatility that I needed for assignments like this on the road.

My A-to-B bag was a Lowepro roller. Needing a camera bag with wheels spoke volumes about the gear I was lugging around. I liked the roller well enough, but to this day I remember tiring of it - too big, too heavy, and I felt like a tourist.

Ten years later I've replaced the roller with a Lowepro ProTactic 350AW backpack. It measures 12"x9"x17" and weighs just a smidgen over 4 pounds. I slides easily under the seat in front of me while flying, and it's easy to carry on my back, over my shoulder, or strapped to the extending handle of my rolling suitcase. And it's tough as nails.

Inside, I have an Olympus OM-D E-M5 MarkII with a 16MP sensor and weather-resistant sealing. It costs less than half as much as my Canon 5D and has more features. Add 6 MFT lenses, accessories, a Pentax ZX-5 35mm camera. and two Pentax lenses, and I still have room for my laptop, iPad, international iPhone, and the usual complement of cords and chargers.

The best part of all of this is the feeling of freedom. I'm no longer a pack horse pulling a rolling camera bag through international airports. My tools are versatile, my bag is light, and I can't wait to step foot in Reykjavík once again.

A lot has changed in 10 years. 







30 Degrees

I was downtown dropping-off a couple rolls of film at Jeremiah's when I decided to make a detour to Rubios. As far as I'm concerned, anytime is taco time. And my stomach was in empty agreement.

When I returned to the bike and unlocked it, I didn't notice anything amiss. But after a few petals, I felt something wrong. Dammit. The back tire was flat.

BTW: Why is it always the back tire that succumbs to bullhead thorns? Front tire: never flat. Complicated, gear-ladened back wheel: every time.

I looked-up the closest bike shop on my iPhone and walked beside my limping Cannondale to the shop.

"Do you have time to fix a flat while I wait?" I asked in a polite voice.

"Yes, of course."

"Great. I'll just hangout and browse while you work on it."

The technician who helped me was about 5'4" tall. We were truly an odd pairing. I wonder what he thought while he worked on this fully-extended XL bike frame?

After about 10 minutes he found me over in the accessory section and told me the tire was fixed.

"But I noticed that your handlebars seem out of alignment. Do you want to take a look?"

"Actually, I do. Been meaning to work on them."

He had me straddle the frame like I was ready to ride, then instructed me to put my hands on the bar as I normally would. He walked from one side to the other, taking mental snapshots of my riding position. I swear he was squinting one eye.

"This bike is a little small for you," he remarked.

"All bikes are a little small for me," I said with a smile.

"I have an idea that might help. Want to hear it?"

"I do."

"Your handlebars are too low in relationship to the seat. That puts stress on your hands and back. If I changed your handlebar stem to one that has a 30-degree angle upward, you would notice a big difference."

"Really? Just 30 degrees? Can you do that now?"

"I can."

"I'll go back to shopping."

Another 10 minutes passed and he walked the bike over to where I was standing.

"What do you think?"

"Wow. That looks good."

"Try it."

So I walked the bike outside and took it for a spin. What a difference. My hands and back were totally relaxed.

"I love this," I said as I rode back to him standing by the door.

"Yeah, it's good, isn't it."

When you think about it, that new stem was a relatively small adjustment. Just 30 degrees. No one would notice unless I pointed it out. "Hey, check out my new handlebar stem!" No measurable response. Of course. It just looks like a bike.

As I rode home, I was thinking about small adjustments. They really are important. Whether it's our photography, our job, our relationships, or yes, a bike with low handlebars, small adjustments can make a big difference. "I need to do more of this," I thought.

Speaking of which, we made one other small adjustment that day. My new intertube is puncture resistant and filled with green goo. Screw you, bullheads.

I think I'm going to like that change as well.