Experience in the Age of the App
February 1, 2017
I have worked as a professional photographer for over twenty-five years. My interest in photography developed when I was still a child. With age came ability, and when experience and awareness produce a realization, I made the decision to advance my hobby into a profession.
At the time I became a professional photographer and for most of my career, film was the primary medium. Technical proficiency with a camera was essential to achieve good results, and a real understanding of the chemical process involving film and printing was paramount. A creative eye and mind could not thrive without these fundamental components, and quality work relied on all of them together. Scrutinizing one’s photographic results depended on the requisite cycle of chemical processes which took from a few hours to a few days to complete.
This was a daily reality until less than a generation ago. The proliferation of digital photography had drastically changed the landscape of the amateur and professional fields alike. Wait no more. Digital photography results can be instantly scrutinized in the camera, which allows instant learning and promotes faster specialization. The technology provides access to sophisticated options never imagined a generation ago. Most of the photographic production process underwent a similar change. Chemical darkrooms are now mostly a relic of the past, and digital darkrooms are not only very affordable, they can be found on almost any digital platform, including mobile devices. Quality photographic results can be achieved in a snap compared to those in the past. Hours and resources once spent in a chemical darkroom were shortened to a few minutes on a computer. Automation and computerization of the photographic process considerably lowered the bar for required knowledge, technical proficiency, and experience needed to achieve good results, allowing, seemingly everyone, to become a photographer.
This example is not unique to the field of professional photography. Rather, it is indicative of many fields and professions affected by digital technology. The music industry, book publishing, and other professional trades all report similar realities. The digital age continues to change the landscape of the job market, with scores of people finding their livelihood vanishing from underneath them.
You may find it whimsical to see someone at a coffee shop typing on a portable Smith Corona. That person may find that using such technology gives their work a unique aroma, but such choice comes at a certain price. Technology provides an arena in which all present within it can share means and products. Generating results outside that arena comes at a cost, first of which is relative isolation. Maintaining an operation outside the main theatre is of course entirely possible and may have certain advantages, but will require a bridge back into that sphere to complete the process. That bridge is likely to add to the overall cost of the operation. To keep with the above example, the use of a typewriter, a tape recorder, or a film camera will produce results, unique no doubt. But bringing these results to a finished product may prove challenging, and will generate results deemed inferior by some.
The tools with which artists create their craft are a conduit between the creative spring they possess and the public pool they interact in. A painter may find it modernly acceptable and technologically advanced to draw using a tablet while his contemporary is using brushes and oil on canvas. Both of them are exercising their creativity in the same way, but are they really?
Regardless of what your specialty is, the results of your work depend on your proficiency, experience, and creativity levels. The tools with which you operate to advance the fruits of your imagination into a finished product should be selected carefully, but they are just a means to an end. It is not the quality of the pen at hand, but the mind guiding it.
The job market is product driven. Companies and organizations rely heavily on high tech devices to perfect and streamline their output. Those devices are the company’s apps. Older folks in the workforce are often found to be less app savvy than their younger colleagues, and some of them may feel challenged and intimidated by new technology. The job market provides greater opportunities to younger people who can optimally engage the apps to maximize the company’s output. But a company’s concentration on high tech only may prioritize the wrong end. It could favor quantity and effective output over quality and uniqueness. Without a critical mass of experience and creativity, the company may have the right number of tools to output its product, but the product itself may not be competitive for lack of depth and sophistication.
Generations ago, the way to acquire job skills was through apprenticeships. Professional specialty was gained through learning and experience on the job. Today, education is a vital first step to most career jobs in the market. But professional education only provides a foundation upon which an individual may develop proficiency. A professional maturity, once achieved, can provide workers a rich means through which they can creatively contribute to the company’s workflow and products through its apps.
Older people in the workforce may be less proficient with the latest apps, but they possess what younger folks lack – professional maturity. Younger employees may be more adept to use the latest technology and apps, but they lack the experience and vision that would enable their creativity to flourish. Effective work teams would be more productive overall if they included people from the wide range of age and experience. Such teams will thrive in an environment that enjoys the fruits and abilities its members offer through their wide range of abilities. Professional maturity and experienced creativity will be utilized to a competitive product while taking full use of the company’s apps. All that while maintaining a conducive apprenticeship environment that ensures growth and continuity of the company and its workforce. Under good management, these teams can develop interdependency and high-efficiency workflow much like sports teams or army units cultivate as they train together and focus their sights on a goal or a mission.