Last month, Harvard Business Review published an article titled A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel. It stated:
"Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being."
It was followed up this month by the Wall Street Journal reporting on further research in an article titled Does Facebook Make Us Unhappy and Unhealthy? (spoiler: yes it does). It stated:
"Using Facebook was tightly linked to compromised social, physical and psychological health."
It seems clear now, just like when the early research was completed on cigarettes: Facebook is addictive and harmful to our health. And just like the early research on cigarettes, the addiction delivery company is arguing that the harm doesn't exist, while employing experts to make it even more addictive. In fact, another study found Facebook to be more addictive than cigarettes.
So, what's our responsibility as photographers or writers (the publishers Facebook depends on to fuel its future)?
Facebook dominates social media. Pew Research Center reported last week:
"Facebook continues to be America’s most popular social networking platform by a substantial margin: Nearly eight-in-ten online Americans (79%) now use Facebook, more than double the share that uses Twitter (24%), Pinterest (31%), Instagram (32%) or LinkedIn (29%)."
"Roughly three-quarters (76%) of Facebook users report that they visit the site daily (55% visit several times a day, and 22% visit about once per day)."
Facebook is where your audience is. What happens when publishing to them, in the place they gather, harms them?
Because your creativity doesn't begin and end when a project does. It's a daily practice.
365 projects are a byproduct of a daily practice, as are books, blogs, and careers.
“One of the factors of creating addiction is random positive reinforcement. If you’re trying to train your dog…you don’t want a treat every time. The more random, the more powerful the addiction to the behavior. There is hardly anything that has more random positive reinforcement than email and social media. Any of you golfers out there: one good stroke, one good drive, will keep you coming back to hit 400 crappy ones.”
The golf analogy perfectly describes the addiction to photography we experience.
Combine the random positive reinforcement of social media with the random positive reinforcement of photography and you get the success of Instagram.
Yesterday, my doctor told me I need to slow down. In short, I'm overwhelmed with work. It's not the first time I've been told this.
He said something else that stuck with me, though. He said that we've become a society obsessed with self-imposed deadlines that are ultimately meaningless. He said we'd all be a lot healthier if we dropped them.
He was talking about social media, personal projects, and the daily urgencies that don't stand up to measurement against what really matters – family.
I'm sure he was talking about himself as well. After all, being a doctor has probably meant he has spent way more time away from his family than he would have liked.
His emergencies are real emergencies and make ours seem trivial, but the fact he still believes we all have some reassessing to do, makes it somehow more comforting and motivating.
Figuring out how to drop self-imposed deadlines seems like a daunting task in itself. The rewards may be worth it, though.
Deep Work is all the rage, and has been for a few years. It's refreshing to have some push back against it, if at least to have some diversity of opinion.
Tiago Forte, a productivity consultant, was recently interviewed for the Evernote podcast. He opposes the concept of deep work:
"You know, I get it. People are feeling frazzled and just scatterbrained and all these things. But I really think this idea that you’re sort of this monastic knowledge worker, that you’re going to enter your chambers and just think deeply for hours and hours and hours on end, is a holdover from that freelance specialist mindset. And following up on that idea of a generalist as a freelancer, to do that effectively you need a portfolio. You can’t have just one narrow skill that you do."
"If you look at the history of manufacturing, one of the great, great insights that took decades and decades to discover was small batches, right? That was one of the key breakthroughs to better quality, to speed, to more throughput, to more profitability in manufacturing. And then you go to knowledge work and you have the deep work thing, which is another way of saying big batch sizes. Deep work, spending hours and hours in deep flow, is a big batch size. So it’s like we’ve completely gone against decades of experience in manufacturing."
I think I understand what he's saying, but I'm not sure it opposes deep work as much as he thinks. Plus, I think Cal Newport was arguing that small batching was a good thing for "productivity," but a bad thing for deep human thought, which in turn became scarce and, therefore, more valuable.
I could spent hours crafting a single, long weekly blog post that would serve me better in terms of Google SEO and, later, compiling easy ebooks to sell. That would be deep work. It would take hours of concentrating. It's what every expert says I should be doing (and they may be right).
Or, I could write short blog posts (like this one) that get an idea that's churning in my head out into the world quickly. Done daily, it gives the reader much more variety in subject matter to read, which it seems, the reader does prefer. It's a process. It's a habit. It's what Seth Godin would recommend. It's not necessarily deep work.
I could still compile ebooks or courses from shallow work (or any long-form material), but it would require deep work at the other end. For instance, I put the last 400+ posts from this blog into Scrivener. It will take weeks (maybe months) to combine posts by subject matter and edit them into chapters. That's a huge amount of deep work, but it happens all at once and it's based on many small batch tasks. This obviously works for someone like Seth Godin.
Not so much for me. As an aside, that project isn't going so well, as it's creating something like 12 small books of no consequence, rather than a cohesive compilation like A Lesser Photographer. That's OK. It's more data. It's tells me that what I did in those 400 posts didn't work as well as the previous 400. Maybe I'm more of a generalist now, like Tiago. Or, maybe it's time for a change.
He may also be saying that the work really isn't just the product. It's everything that goes along with it. It's the dozens of tasks that have to happen to make the posts and books happen. None of that is deep work, nor should it be.
It's great food for thought. But, I wouldn't want to small batch the thought.
"If I could only take photos of one thing for the rest of my life, it would be my family. I've had the privilege to travel to the ends of the earth, taking pictures of the world's most amazing locations. And if I could just take photos of Kesh and the boys — of us being us — I would choose that over anything."
"A deep lesson I've learned is that there's a really fine line between documenting the essence of something and over-documenting to where you become withdrawn from what you're really doing. I want to be here, actually here, for all of it, and I want to document our life in a true way. But, as important as it is to document life, what is by far more important is to be in your life."
Yep. This is the essence of the A Lesser Photographer philosophy. Photography is one of the greatest things in my life, but it must make way for the greatest thing.
When big name politicians run for office, they start by announcing a "listening tour." This is bullshit. It's really about determining if they have the financial support and popularity to viably run for the office.
What if it wasn't bullshit, though?
What if you could start a listening tour for what you do (or want to do better)? Where would you go and who would you talk to?
Starting in June, I'm doing a listening tour through the midwest. It's going to be about connecting with target readers I've known mostly online. I want to listen to them in person to find out what they need.
It's the world's first real listening tour!
Nothing beats meeting people in real life to find out what the online surveys won't tell you.
From Eric Kim's blog:
"Why? I realized it was a major distraction in my life. Rather than focusing on what I do to create real value (blogging) I wasted my precious energy on how to optimize my follower count."
Generally, I don't like to announce when I quit doing things or change up my publishing formats anymore. It's not interesting or applicable to most readers. I just do it and move on. But, Eric's post is an exception to this rule, because he's helping people.
It may sound counterintuitive to leave Instagram for blogging, when most photographers have done the opposite, but that's the point. "Different is better than better." Zig when everyone else is zagging.
He's focused on a goal and he's eliminating anything that gets in his way. Instagram was getting in the way of creating (both in terms of time and mental health), so he's eliminating from his life.
Eric posts way too many blog posts everyday for me to keep up with. I couldn't read them all if I wanted to. But 1 out of a 10 resonate with me. And if he publishes 50 posts a week, that's 5 posts every week that reach me in a personal way. That's way more than any photo publication I can think of.
It's no wonder he says he now makes about $200,000.00 from his ideas about photography (most of it coming from workshops). He becomes more influential and valuable with every blog post and he knows it.
Eric invited me a few years ago to dinner with one of his workshop classes. I can attest they were having a great time. I suspect there would be twice as many people this year trying to get into that workshop class.
I believe the email newsletter is the most effective form of communication available online. As popular as they are, I believe they are still incredibly under-used. Nothing brings a return, whether in terms of money or relationships, like the email newsletter.
My focus has been solely on relationship building, but the new book Do Open: How a simple email newsletter can transform your business (and it can) aims to teach you how to apply the best practices of effective newsletters to your business.
The book is an easy-to-read overview of how to publish a no-nonsense, useful, shareable newsletter. It doesn't get bogged down in stats or jargon. It shouldn't. Successful newsletter publishers realize every audience is different and they are no easy templates.
There are principles, however.
Even though I've been publishing newsletters since the 1990s (1980s if you include paper newsletters) and have been studying the industry since the late 90s, I still need to be reminded of the basics sometimes. The book served me well in that regard.
For example, when I switched the focus of my personal newsletter, I never came up with a new name or masthead. This is pretty basic stuff the book recommends. I was following the example of some of my favorite author-based newsletters without considering the basic principles of publishing I knew so well. Without a masthead and a solid name for the newsletter, there's less for a reputation to stick to. There's less recognition of what this is in my inbox. There's less of a reason to share. There's less reason to open.
It may not have caused me to lose any readers, but it certainly doesn't help when attracting new ones. My pitch to new readers should be, "read X, because Y." Instead, I've been asking them to just "read because."
If you're looking for a great reminder about the basics or looking to start your first newsletter, Do Open is a solid foundation.