In 2004 Editor/Publisher Dirck Halstead asked me if I wanted to write a column for The Digital Journalist he would name E-Bits, consisting mostly of what he called the "flotsam and jetsam" of the World Wide Web. He coined the term E-Bits in reference to images, videos and animations that fly digitally from desktop to desktop over e-mail, floating endlessly through cyberspace. Before that, he had suggested I write an article of my choosing, an offer that I mulled over in a very nonplussed way for almost two years and never answered. Meanwhile, I forwarded an accumulating stream of flotsam and jetsam to Dirck—items that were pertinent to photography or journalism and just the kinds of things that now appear in this column. One day, thinking about Life magazine's "Last Page," Dirck had a flash of inspiration and thought up "E-Bits," called me on the phone and offered me the column. It took me about two seconds to accept.
Dirck's idea was for me to do a column digitally analogous to Life's last page that would serve as a forum for anything, everything, and whatever else on the Web might relate to the magazine's and our readers' interests. Dirck came to his idea upon seeing a video of Tyson the skateboarding bulldog, so I put Tyson in my first column. The Digital Journalist needed a column that could be frivolous or not, and being able to write a column where the subject can roam like a nomad in cyberspace is truly like living in an oasis. The existence of Life was an oasis for contemplative journalists and photojournalists in the heyday of the magazine era when print on paper was the only thing happening—until TV supplanted all. Life delivered information and news of the industrial age, war years, politics and culture from around the world to the doorstep of any who would subscribe. Refresh your memory by clicking on the photo to read the Wikipedia entry about Life.
The all-photography Life was started in 1936 by Henry Luce, but it was preceded by an earlier publication of the same name that was in print from 1883 to 1936. Life is mostly dead except for occasional fits and starts and is now only a Web site. The most recent paper version ended in 2007 after having been reduced to a magazine insert in Sunday newspapers. The publication of the bi-weekly also-ran Look magazine followed Life in 1937 and continued through 1971. A well-informed boomer household of the '50s and '60s rounded out these subscription essentials with The Saturday Evening Post, a same-sized slick magazine that favored not so much news and photography but fiction and art/illustration. Interestingly, its lifespan lasted almost 150 years, from 1821 to 1969. The trio of general interest magazines—Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post—was complemented by the news triplets, Time, Newsweek, and the dry U.S. News & World Report. Five of these six publications arrived regularly at our house, and I grew up devouring every word and every image in a feast that spanned my entire childhood.
Times now are different from that era and things change rapidly from one day to the next. Researching the covers of Life and Look, Time and Newsweek sent me into nostalgic revery and realization of how our world and memories are shaped by what we see and read. We've discussed propaganda many times in the past, and it's difficult to say which medium is a better (or worse) conduit for the truth—radio, print journalism, photographs, video, film, TV, or the digital medium of cyberspace. I have diminished my subscription load of magazines from about 20 to 7 or 8. For years I had The New York Times delivered daily, but I now subscribe only to the Sunday edition. The rest are easy to find every day online, and I find myself checking out several other domestic and international newspapers as a habit. For the most part I have turned my TV off except for C-Span and few other quality programs. As for the network news shows, most of them seem frenetic, high-pitched, noisy and vapid, framed in an hysteria that appears to be constantly escalating. When did that happen, and why do we put up with it? I can't believe it is what everybody wants and what advertisers want to pay for. But there we are, incited nearly to riot over morning coffee. On the other hand, on the computer you can zip like lightning from one item to the next, and time gets distorted when flying around at one's own speed. Many times I sit down to read a few things and find hours will vanish into thin air. Gone are the days of feeling like a day is long. I hear people saying something I feel all the time: there are not enough hours in a day. In no time there's no time.
The Digital Journalist offers itself as an oasis for readers and photojournalists in this fast-paced electronic age, and for 10 years TDJ has aspired to be a well-spring of ideas and information on the forefront of technological innovation and change as it pertains to photography and photojournalism. E-Bits came along to sweep up loose ends, tie some together, and reveal the unusual. Following are a couple of items that serve in that capacity. The first is a visual comparison of what a typical family eats in a week in 16 different countries. I found it fascinating not only concerning amount and cost, but also quality of the food. Please click on the photo to look at this interesting photo essay on TIME.com from the book "Hungry Planet" by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio.
Some of the more fun photo collections I've seen lately I hope are all photo-illustrations. They are from a book "Why Paint Cats: The Ethics of Feline Aesthetics," by Burton Silver and Heather Busch, who earlier published the wildly popular "Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics." Like images on Life's Last Page used to affect me, I laughed out loud when I saw some of these painted cats. After making one's way through pages depicting foreign wars and news of the human condition, it's good to have a laugh and be a little bit fascinated by the things people do.
I miss the old days when time seemed slower and sitting around reading was a leisurely activity. On the other hand, we still sit around and read, but it all just goes faster. And the variety has increased enormously. But isn't that the spice of life? Based on the accelerated trajectory of the last few decades, I think we should be prepared for an even greater information explosion that is coming tomorrow. And tomorrow and tomorrow.