Like most people I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet reading articles, watching short videos, and looking for inspiration among the millions of new things uploaded everyday. While a lot of what is forced down our throats these days is clickbait trash, every once in a while I stumble across something genuinely of interest to me as a photojournalist, videographer, and more broadly as a human being.
I spent most of this month on the road between Mexico and Guatemala, and so this edition of Stuff I Liked This Month is reading heavy, perfect for long bus rides. Enjoy!
1 – I Used to Be a Human Being – Andrew Sullivan/New York Magazine
This long form essay deals with a problem that afflicts many people today: social media obsession and the mistaking of online recognition with real life success. Since starting out as a photojournalist, social media presence has been one of the most stressed yet elusive buzz words in the industry. From day one I had it drilled into me that I needed an online and social media presence if I were to have any chance of success in this highly competitive field, and the pursuit of that at times bordered on obsession. How could I ever hope to succeed without a following of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, like those of the top names in documentary photography? Instagram and Facebook changed from being enjoyable social services to mandatory business tools that I scheduled into my calendar and at times the slightest changes in my followings could cause great anxiety.
Andrew Sullivan was one of the early adopters of online life, and for more than a decade he grew an impressive virtual following across multiple platforms. But after 15 years of living according to the whims of these anonymous “friends”, the need to feed the internet beast started to dominate every aspect of his life:
For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.
Without giving away the entire substance of the article, I’ll just say that Andrew has since had a change of heart and his realizations about the dangers of living too much in the virtual world have direct applications to my own path as a photojournalist. As our work is more or less digital only these days and lives almost entirely online, thinking critically about how much engagement with the online world is healthy.
Yes, online and automated life is more efficient, it makes more economic sense, it ends monotony and “wasted” time in the achievement of practical goals. But it denies us the deep satisfaction and pride of workmanship that comes with accomplishing daily tasks well, a denial perhaps felt most acutely by those for whom such tasks are also a livelihood — and an identity.
Head over to New York Magazine to read the full article, and take a moment to think about how your own relationship to the internet has changed your life.
2 – Inside Venezuela’s Crumbling Mental Hospitals – Meridith Kohut/The New York Times
The economic woes of Venezuela have been well covered in the media lately, but this haunting set of images by photojournalist Meridith Kohut for The New York Times show a dark side of what the collapse of a state can mean.
The glue that keeps this hospital in order — the sedatives, tranquilizers and medications — is nearly all gone. In courtyards, women who are functional while medicated are now curled on the floor hallucinating, crying, screaming, rocking back and forth for hours.
The doctors and nurses here are aghast at what is taking place, caught between anger and feelings of helplessness.
The nursing staff debates daily: Who gets the few remaining pills? Who is the most unstable, or suffering the most? They reduce doses, doling out pills into small metal cups with the fluidity of Las Vegas casino dealers.
The images speak for themselves. Click here to see the full set.
3 – Mike Rowe on What is Wrong with the U.S. Elections
The circus theatre and the divided politics of of the American electorate have been impossible to ignore for anyone with an internet connection. The coverage of the candidates has eclipsed all but the biggest news stories to the point where I didn’t learn about the horrific earthquake in Haiti until a week after it happened. And I am a regionally based environmental photojournalist who actively tries to monitor things like natural disasters as part of my job. If I didn’t know about it, how many less engaged people missed it completely? Yet more or less everyone I’ve come into contact with, American or not, native English speak or not, has something to say on Trump vs Hilary.
Weighing into the conversation is the always eloquent Mike Rowe. Made famous by the TV show Dirty Jobs, Rowe has a habit of looking at complex issues and distilling uncommonly sensible bits of wisdom.
Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it. I also share your concern for our country, and agree wholeheartedly that every vote counts. However, I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms. I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?
Over the course of this open letter he breaks down the police commute in America with the common sense approach he is known for, but it so often lacking today. Click here to read the full piece.
4 – Haruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Almost like the antithesis to Andrew Sullivan’s past internet addiction is Murakami’s collection of essays/memoir about his lifelong love affair with running. As one of the world’s great writers, it would be easy for Murakami to retreat into a world of ideas and favour the cerebral over the real. But through running he finds a primal connection to the world that keeps him anchored in reality. As I said above, as a photojournalist I can get lost in the number of likes a an Instagram post gathers or how many readers my most recent assignment had in comparison to others, etc. But in his typical calm and minimalist style, Murakami makes me want to do something physical instead. In today’s digitized world, that’s something I need constant reminding of.
People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree.
The book is a short and light read, and can be picked up here. Part autobiography and part philosophical treatise, I highly recommend this for anyone who feels that they might be just a little to caught up in the virtual world.
5 – Raising Barriers – Fences, Walls, and Fear – The Washington Post
This piece by The Washington Post caught my eye both because of the interesting presentation of multimedia and the way it has been used to tackle a difficult topic – the correlation between the building of walls and fences with fear.
A generation ago, globalization shrank the world. Nations linked by trade and technology began to erase old boundaries. But now barriers are rising again, driven by waves of migration, spillover from wars and the growing threat of terrorism.
If national borders are themselves artificial and unnatural, then the global trend of building huge walls to separate societies from each other is even more so. The story weaves together photography, videography, text, and infographics effectively and I hope the Washington Post and other media outlets are able to find the budgets to keep producing dynamic pieces on unorthodox topics.