The supply of causes has increased. Thank you internet. The demand for solutions has increased. Thank you caring people. I just attended a two day conference called Collaborations for Cause, a retreat for advocates and communicators trying to deal with the new world that has been created by digital media. Supply and demand were the implicit themes for every aspect of the talks. One thing is certain, issues have a harder time hiding, individuals have an easier time finding a voice, professional camera equipment is competing with smartphones, and technology and culture are continuing to change. Stay tuned.
Going to a conference within a fifteen minute drive is definitely convenient, especially when others are willing to travel from around the continent to attend. Thanks to everyone for coming to my corner of the world. They didn’t come for me. They came because a local firm, Fusion Spark Media, organized the event. My money is tight, so I hadn’t planned to attend, but New Road Map Foundation (hi, I’m the board Secretary) decided that someone should attend. How can we can take a subject like personal finance (aka financial integrity / intelligence / independence / literacy) and make it emotionally and visually engaging? Stay tuned for that too. (And feel free to pass along ideas via the web site.) They paid my way so I said yes. Besides, I’m a photographer too so I had additional common ground with the other attendees.
The world needs fixing. Every generation has known that, but hundreds of years ago “the world” that needed fixing may have only been the protecting the neighboring valley from seasonal floods. The world community now knows about the planet. Get an internet connection and read about any part of the world. Someone there is telling the story of the land, the people, the politics, or the culture – or at least whether there are any cute kittens there. Our supply has maximized and the outcry over recently-unobscured issues is proof that human compassion continues to rise to match the need.
Fortunately, in addition to solutions getting matched to needs, it is also possible to benefit from the trend by watching it and investing in it. To some that sounds cynical, but the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation does such good work because a nice couple profited from the trends and used that money for something besides yet another mega-mansion. They aren’t alone. And being in America means being able to make money the same way, and use it for philanthropic work comes with the government’s blessing, or at least a tax break. CSCO, FFIV, MSFT, APPL, AMZN, et al have produced people who want to make the world a better place. For a while, I was doing the same, and I hope to yet again.
There is a disconnect though. Prior to the internet, professionals were employed to produce high quality messages through words, images, and events. In their competitive environment it made sense to act professionally and responsibly by backing up quality work with well-researched data. Many made a living, though few got rich. I suspect that much of the money they made went back into equipment and travel to produce better stories rather than for boat payments. Now, with the advent of ubiquitous embedded cameras, digital media manipulation, and free global distribution, it has become common for crowdsourced content to feed the demand for imagery and insight with less regard for verifying sources. A few professionals compete against the rest of the population. It is the classic quantity versus quality debate. I’m a fan of both. I wait for Scientific American to verify discoveries, and I frequent wikipedia for most of my curiosity based research.
I sat there listening to all of the points of view because many of them exist within my head. I was representing an organization recognized for being careful with money and time, while also sitting there as an advocate for other groups, and also with a business as a nature photographer. I’m a fan of crowdsourcing because it is cheap, pervasive, engaging, and based on diversity. I’m a fan of high-quality work because it comes with fewer caveats which makes it more reliable and therefore more useful. It is also easier to watch and listen to. Quality is a reflection of value, and reliable quality takes time, a portion of a person’s life, to create; and we should value people’s lives.
I sit here now, knowing that the professionals are in a difficult business environment. Yes, there is a great supply of causes that need to be advanced. Yes, there is a great demand for high-quality messages that deal with those situations and possible solutions, but there is also a much greater supply of free enthusiastic advocacy that doesn’t necessarily value well-established verifiable data and background documentation. Maybe there’s more than enough for everyone, but considering how many professional photographers are working regular day jobs too, it suggests that the demand for quality is not high enough. Maybe we professional photographers should take ourselves on as a cause, as proof that we know how to properly craft a persuasive and pervasive message.
One trend was apparent. My favorite seat in that venue (WICA) is in the back row. From there it was easy to see how many attendees were lit by a blue glow from their ever-present laptop, tablet, smartphone, whatever. Many people were multi-tasking, or as I prefer to think of it serially ignoring a rapidly shifting set of distractions. Electronics are ubiquitous, duh, and attention spans are measured in seconds and characters instead of hours and chapters. I, too, was guilty. There was a drawing, my card was picked, and all I had to do was come down on stage and correctly answer a question that would be simple for those who were paying attention. Unfortunately, I was checking the twitter feed to see what else was happening in the room. Fortunately, my made up answer was good enough. Yes! Whew.
The value of intangible things that are in great supply can easily be reduced to zero, except when the demand is sincere and essential. Words and images are easy to find, but the right words, the right images can be invaluable. I see this when I consult with people who decided to take the step and become a client. They’ve probably already received plenty of free advice. Sometime that’s good enough, but there’s a definite value in money and time when the need for a solution is a bit more than simply trivial. I saw that when I was a client (thank you Mike and Michelle), and I’ve seen that as a consultant. (Really, a bottle of scotch? Thank you for the nice tip.) I hope we find a way to blend the value available in the professionals and the energy and power available in the crowd called the human race. There are more than enough causes for us to collaborate on.
Supply and demand also kicked in for an unexpected MicroVision moment. As part of an exercise ten of us were trying to put together a ten-minute presentation in ninety minutes. One of my team mates turned to me and said, “You know, if we only had one of this little pocket projectors this would be so much easier. I gotta get me one of those.” I told him I had one, but had left it at home. Oops. He’s eager, and he didn’t even know they were for sale. Demand, meet supply.