Can a person be too good to be employed?

I wonder sometimes where we’re heading in America. What do we, as a country, want to do? I’m not sure we really know. I often think, especially over the past few years, we’ve become too greedy. I suppose Capitalism could do that to a person. We’re all about making money in this country, it’s the American Dream after all, isn’t it? I can’t watch television or open a newspaper or magazine or walk into most any retail store without being inundated with pitches for products I just can’t live without. And, many of us seem to believe it. The ideal situation that companies froth at the mouth over….competition among users….is the pinnacle of consumerism. The Smith vs. Jones struggle for one-upmanship is more ruthless now than it was back in the day. Seems so, anyway. People change $400 phones like they do their $500 pants. But, I digress. What does this have to do with being a good employee?

Used to be, when a person did their time at a company, worked hard, were dedicated, productive, worked their way up, became a team leader, they were rewarded. These individuals are the face of the company, interacting with customers, making angry people smile, getting the job done, greasing the wheels, taking pride in their work and taking up the slack of the slackers.

Rewarding doesn’t happen much anymore. Well, it does to a point. Corporate conglomerates are only interested in the bottom line and when that bottom line begins to creep up, guess who tends to get the heave-ho? Yeah, the productive ones. Why? Because they’ve worked their way into increased bonuses and raises, surpassing their slacker (or less dedicated) brethren to the point that they’ve become not a nuisance but a liability. They are making too much money. When push comes to shove, the best workers get bumped because the bottom line cuts right across their necks. It doesn’t make much sense to me when one person can do the work of three slackers and gets kicked to the curb. But, I suppose I can understand when a company is trying to stay afloat something’s got to give. Slackers are a dime a dozen and most conglomerates just need “butts in chairs” to make the operation work below the executive level (well,…but that’s another story). Eventually, one of those slackers may rise up and at some later date get their legs chopped out from under them as well. But, the conglomerate will go on, customer complaints and downturns in employee moral are but miniscule bumps in the road. I saw it happen in a tech company I worked at. When times got rough, it was the highest paid people who got laid off. The slackers still had jobs while those people that were probably planning to retire with the company got the Big Sayonara.

This was brought to my attention again today when I was reading the December 10 issue of High Country News. In this issue is a great article about Jim Detterline, a 21-year veteran National Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. Over the years, he’s rescued hundreds of people off the various mountain peaks in the park. He’s an important asset to the visitors of Rocky Mountain National Park, and with his years of mountaineering and rescue experience he is an important asset to the operation of the park as a leader, mentor, and trainer of new generations of park rangers. You don’t get to be where he is overnight.

In 1999, the National Park Service initiated a new set of physical standards for law enforcement park rangers and Mr. Detterline was put on light duty as a result (it’s difficult to be fired in the government, but this is amounts to the same thing). Oh, did I mention that Jim Detterline is hearing impaired? That’s right, he needs to wear a hearing aid. Apparently, years of successful and beneficial service weren’t enough to save him from the wrath of a blanket policy. He fought it (wouldn’t you?) and was granted a waiver to return to ranger duty. But, he has to reapply each year for the waiver, killing his chances for any hope of career advancement. He’s spent $100,000 on his case and continues to battle the Park Service, but despite being disappointed in the way he’s been treated, still has a passion for his job. I wish him luck in his struggle against the government, which can be the absolutely most uncaring employer on the planet. I respect his perseverance and passion. Luckily, for him and park visitors, he didn’t get the boot.

So, what does Jum Detterline’s story have to do with getting fired because you make too much money? Nothing, really. It’s just a story to illustrate my point that in many cases in today’s job market it doesn’t seem to matter how good you are or what benefit you provide to customers and the business as a whole. The respect companies have for employees is almost non-existent and this spills over to employees as well who tend not to respect employers who don’t reward for work well done. In the end, quality and productivity, creativity and innovation suffer. Who wants to put out for someone that’s just going to stab you in the back?

Where do we go from here? How far down the hole does it have to go? There will be a point at which things turn around. The pendulum has to swing all the way over before it can come back. Companies will remember what (and who) keeps them in business and will begin treating employees less like frontline troops and more like money in the bank. I don’t know the statistics for the growth of small businesses, but my inclination is the growth of small businesses is on the rise. People are just tired of being used and and hung out to dry.

Good luck to you all out there struggling to make a difference in corporate land (and on your own). It’s a jungle and the only one looking out for you is you.

What’s more important: Postcards or Dinner?

The fiasco of Modern Postcard has come and gone. They rectified their mistake with an apology and cancellation of their partnership with iStockphoto. A grand move, in my eyes, since a distributor like Getty only wants to dominate the marketplace and own all of its content, taking the photographer completely out of the equation.

I received some angry emails from other photographers when I suggested sending a thank you to Modern Postcard for their change in plans, giving iStockphoto the boot. Their rationale was they were burned once, why give them a second chance?

This from Getty photographers who are willing to accept continual cuts in the percentages gained from license fees, who keep agreeing to lower and lower rates (now a one-year, $49 web use license for 500K-sized files from ANY of its images regardless of brand or pricing model).

I think you’ve got to look at the big picture. A photographer can keep fighting against the pressure to lower fees, to accept lower license fee percentages, to accept greater rights uses for less, or they can jump on the bandwagon of giving away their work for low fee because “if I don’t do it someone else will”. Granted, we all have to eat and it’s a pisser that we have to put up with this at all. The big distributors, like Getty, are not helping one single bit by insisting on rights-grabbing contracts and pressuring photographers to provide content for nearly nothing, all in the rush to make more money for themselves. Hopefully, this mentality will come crashing down one day soon and a great sorting out will occur, a leveling of the playing field, a return of ownership of the content to photographers rather than the giant sucking void that exists now.

I’m angry at the photographers who thought that Modern Postcard should go down for this mistake, but who continue to feed Getty because they feel it’s the only game in town. The monopoly has them by the balls and they’re afraid. Modern Postcard is an easy target because there are other printers they can go to. There are other stock photo outlets out there as well. And many have quit Getty and are doing rather well distributing their own work. It’s not really a monopoly unless you give in to it.

I’ve never used Modern Postcard, but I likely will in the near future because they truly seem to be photographer friendly, especially by their actions of ending what was probably a lucrative partnership after receiving many customer complaints.

I’ve never contributed to Getty and never plan to because photographers can complain to Getty until they are blue in the face and Getty will just point to the door with their jackbooted foot cocked for launch.

So why put up with that?

Last Word about Planet Earth

One more and I’ll let it rest.

This is about writing and opportunity. In the episode “Ice Worlds”, during the emperor penguin segment, spring has arrived in the Antarctic, chicks have hatched and are growing. Some were lost in a storm, some killed by females that had lost chicks and were over-enthusiastic to adopt an orphan, others die because the female or male doesn’t return with food and the remaining parent has to abandon the chick to survive.

The narration, talking about the young penguins: “Those that survive their first year have the best possible start in life”.

Certainly, those that survive their first year are better off than those that don’t. I think it goes without saying that the above statement applies to all new life on earth, not just penguins.

There’s something about this show in that the self-praising seems pompous and empty since, overall, the series dumbs down the relevance of the imagery. To be honest, educationally, Zoboomafoo is a more intelligently written show than Planet Earth. There is so much more potential with this mini-series and Discovery Channel botched it. I think they had to rush it in post. Had to quickly scramble to write something once the film was in. Editing also seems rushed, with some segments slopped together, starting and ending abruptly with little lead in or lead out.

I do like most of the aerial work, mainly because it’s a different point of view.

So, I’ll stop beating this series up. I’m disappointed. It looked promising, but like a bad movie, the best shots are in the trailer.

The Spectrum of Nature on Television

A good friend of mine is a nature cinematographer. Over the past few years we’ve bemoaned the fact that nature programming on television has become a joke, me from a content position, he from an income perspective. Nature just doesn’t seem to be as popular in the current realm of reality television, unless it’s reality nature I suppose. Gone are the days of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, even National Geographic. Now we have shows less about education wonderment and more about spectacle.

It really began with the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. As much as his knowledge, care and concern for the animals he profiled got back to the core values of what a nature show is supposed to be about, he did stray into the realm of spectacle with his antics and the “character” of the Crocodile Hunter. However, I think because of his background, he did do enormous benefit to educate and inspire people about nature and conservation. Many others followed, trying to capitalize on Steve Irwin’s personable approach, from recognized authorities and real biologists trying hard to create entertaining and educational content to guys dressed in loin cloths getting their nipples tweaked by monkeys. It takes a unique individual who can be both goofy and entertaining as well as a teacher. None of those who followed in Steve Irwin’s footsteps have been able to fill them.

Continue reading “The Spectrum of Nature on Television”

Photographer’s Grand Canyon Leap

Photographer Hans van de Horst captured another photographer making what appears to be a death-defying leap in flip-flops from one pinnacle to another at the Grand Canyon. HansvandeVorst.bmp

This photo is the first in a series found Here on Flickr!

A debunking of sorts occurs on snopes.com. The comment on Snopes is the fact of a missing out of frame at the bottom that could (or according to Snopes, “would” catch a falling leaper). This spot may be a popular hangout for canyon watchers/photographers, wayward lovers, etc. but the fact is that (if you look at the alternate angle photo on Snopes) there is still a lot of airspace between the ledge and the bottom of the canyon if there is a misstep.

HansvandeVorst21.bmpThe second photo in the series shows the photographer leaping with camera gear not in a backpack over his back, but clutched in his left arm. Footwear is the ever-popular rock climbing and rock leaping flip-flop, a mainstay of serious climbers everywhere.

I was just mentioning in my photo class the other day not to drive while photographing. I would add this kind of stunt to the list as well (as if I would need to mention that).

It’s a dramatic series, to be sure. I think if the photographer had stayed on the right side he would have been able to capture the best light instead of having to make his leap while it was still bright enough to see.

Everybody wants a piece

This past week has been rather frustrating. Two potential clients turned down estimates because they wanted the whole enchilada for nothing. One potential client was very rude about it. I switched blogs because of a new requirement at my old blog to agree to the Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) every time I created a new post. The part of the T&Cs that caused me to move was:

” By submitting, posting or displaying Content …., you grant …. a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content through …., including RSS or other content feeds offered through …, and other …. services. In addition, by submitting, posting or displaying Content which is intended to be available to the general public, you grant …. a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting …. services. …. will discontinue this licensed use within a commercially reasonable period after such Content is removed from ….. …. reserves the right to refuse to accept, post, display or transmit any Content in its sole discretion.”

I’ve removed the company name(s) because I’ve found that this type of statement is becoming more prevelant wherever online content is uploaded, plus, I’ve already posted about my blog.

Maybe I’m getting paranoid about the omnipresent “If you sibmit it you grant is the world-wide, royalty-free, right to use it in anything and everything we please” clause, but if anyone else has noticed it also, let me know. I get it enough with potential clients and to have to wrestle with online services as well can just be the icing on the cake.

Everyone wants a piece of what I have to offer. They want it from you, too. They obviously think there is some value in what you and I have to offer. Companies spend time and money to create this clause to knowingly or unknowingly (if you don’t read the terms of service closely you could be in trouble down the road) get you to sign over a very broad usage license to your creative works.

They want what you and I have, but they don’t want to compensate for it.

As the human population increases, it becomes more difficult for individuals to stand out from the crowd, to be recognized. It’s part of our social underpinnings to want to be important, make a difference, be famous for our 15 minutes. Technology increasingly makes it easier to distribute pictures, videos, and music around the world on phones, computers, televisions, gaming devices, you name it. Corporations look at that ocean of content and drool.

I think the trend in image marketing (since that’s what I’m most familiar with) is in “real imagery”. We’ve seen it with the popularity of reality TV shows, why wouldn’t it be any different in the print media? What’s more real than a photograph shot during a real party or outing? The lighting is not perfect (it’s real), the technical quality is often lacking, the emotion is real. Often, that look cannot be easily duplicated with a production shoot that concentrates on angles, lighting, product placement, make-up, art direction, etc., leaving little room for “realism”.

Who better to sell products than your best friend? What’s more cool than having your picture in a national advertising campaign? Many amateur photographers, graphic artists, illustrators, etc. aren’t familiar with how the industry works, what copyright is, what licensing an image means, what compensation should be given, how to protect themselves from being taken advantage of. They’ll even buy copies of the magazine to give to their friends and relatives…..

On a recent television talk show, a contest was announced where the winner would receive the cover photo of a national magazine. I’m sure there will be a “World-wide, Royalty-Free” clause in those contest rules (or something very similar, restricting compensation to the cover photo while giving the publisher/company rights to use the image wherever and whenever they please). These clauses may also be careful to mention that your copyright remains with you (sometimes not, reading the fine print may reveal that by submitting your image you are transferring your copyright, which means you have no future claim to that image…so read terms very carefully and/or seek professional help in interpreting complex rules and regulations). Also pay attention that this clause doesn’t apply just to winners, but to ALL entries. Sometimes just by entering you grant this license even if your photo isn’t selected for any prize.

However, if you agree to the terms, granting a world-wide, royalty-free license is nearly the same as giving up your copyright. No further compensation will be due to you. The company makes money selling advertising, products, magazines, etc. and even the winners will purchase items to give away to friends and relatives and to keep as mementos. Isn’t it sad that you would give away your photo to help promote a business then have to purchase copies so you have a record of it?

It’s great to be recognized by a local, regional, or national company. It’s great to have a “trophy” of a printed cover or feature story. But, you should be fairly compensated for it. Just remember, you have what they want. Don’t make it too easy for them to get it.

Net Neutrality – One Sided?

It’s the Users versus the Providers when it comes to the net neutrality issue. What’s that, you ask? Net neutrality is a concept that helps ensure that no single entity or group can have control over access to the internet either through content control or bandwidth control. The internet was developed with an “open source” philosophy, whereas anyone could create applications for the web without asking “permission” from ISPs, governments, (see also here for comments by Tim Berners-Lee).

That concept continues to come under fire by the big providers in the U.S. trying to take control over who has priority access to internet content and bandwidth through essentially a “pay for play” system that has the potential to give priority access or preference to the highest paying customers or to allow content providers to control access, bandwidth, and content based upon preferential treatment of the “level” of customer.

“If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.” — Tim Berners-Lee

In the 1/8/2007 issue of Information Week, J. Nicholas Hoover writes about AT&T’s buyout of BellSouth which includes a discussion of concessions made by AT&T regarding net neutrality. While AT&T agreed to adhere to the principle of net neutrality, the agreement didn’t cover aspects such as IP television, Virtual Private Networks (VPN and VLAN) or even the internet backbone, only the bandwidth from the consumer to the nearest point on the network. According to the article, AT&T is free to provide preferential treatment to its own IP Television traffic, for example, or to backbone clients willing to pay for the priviledge. Also, while T1 and DS3 access lines are expected to be charged the same, business DSL may not be included in the concession.

Again today (1/12/07), Information Week discusses net nuetrality from another angle. With increasing techologies utilizing internet bandwidth resources, how will the pipelines be enlarged to handle the load? Who will pay? Internet providers are saying (could be a valid reason, could be a smokescreen) fees would go to improving infrastructure and providing better service. However, I like many others, aren’t very trustful of big businesses who exist primarily to make profits for themselves and shareholders. Whether internet providers honestly improve their internet infrastructure and service will remain to be seen if given the chance to take control. Using past performance as a guide, I’m skeptical. Some will benefit (those who can pay), the rest will flounder.

Net neutrailty is an issue to pay attention to. There are enough users to create a strong voice. So, if you are concerned, write your representatives in the legislature, check out the various websites with information, and get involved as much as you think necessary.

The internet is a great informational resource, just like television. It’s a dominant force for information-gathering. Like television, we would rather have the “open source” option than have our information filtered by a corporation, government or other entity that is making the decisions about what is “good for us”.

Think about it.

The cost of being in business

A person who starts and operates a business is on their own, literally. There is no umbrella company paying their health insurance, 401(k), or salary. A self-employed person needs to sell or bill enough to cover expenses, costs and, if they’re lucky, have a little bit left over for growth. Using a service business as an example (consultant, photographer, hair stylist, etc.), the business owner needs to calculate what’s called the Cost of Doing Business (CODB). This figure is the cost paid every day for operating that particular business.

The CODB is composed of all expenses and overhead, divided by the expected number of billable jobs performed (or “open for business” days) during the year. Now, a self-employed person can’t reasonably expect to bill 365 days a year. There is a lot of downtime, processing invoices, creating and distributing marketing and advertising materials, making phone calls to prospective clients, etc. This might be 1 or 2 days a week spent on administrative duties. If a person can afford to hire help for these functions, those expenses go into the CODB as well.

For example, there are 365 days in the year, 104 days are weekend days, leaving 261. Take out 14 for vacation and a conservative 7 days for sick time (what sole business owner has time to take a vacation or be sick, though?) and you’re left with 240 billable business days. That’s 48 5-day weeks. If you have 1.5 admin days per week, that’s 72 days. Subtract 72 from 240 and you get 168 days a year a sole business owner can reasonably expect to have available for billable work, work that they get paid for and from which they have to cover costs and expenses. However, the number of billable days ranges from 170 – 250 and the final number will be based on your own business an personal needs.

The total of costs and expenses divided by 168 billable days equals the CODB, the MINIMUM amount the business owner needs to charge for every billable day to just break even for the year.

Here is a selection of information and CODB calculators to assist you:

National Press Photographers Association: Professional Development Business Practices

Milken Institute Cost of Doing Business 2005 (PDF)

For people wondering why photographers charge what they do:

Digital Journalist – Issue0309

A request to photo buyers to have some consideration

I’m trying to not be vehement and launch into a tirade, but I just got off a phone call with a real estate agent who called frantically requiring the use of some photos I shot of her a while back for an article in a trade magazine. She had been awarded the top real estate agent for a major real estate company in Idaho and wanted to use my photos in an advertisement in a prominent Idaho business newspaper. They needed the photos by end of day today and were really scrambling. I was in the middle of a project, but dropped everything to accommodate their request. I located the images, resized them for email review, wrote up a short list of fee use options, and emailed that for approval before creating the contract.

I quoted fees for one-time use in the newspaper ad, plus 1-yr all media licenses for use of each of 1, 2, 3, and 4 photos. These fees were much lower than national averages, which at this time is what the local market demands.

A phone call a few minutes later to their office resulted in an initial cordial review of the images they wanted to use. Then the real estate agent in the background (I was obviously on speaker phone) asked in a loud and angry-sounding voice why did she have to pay annually to use “Her Photos” and that she wasn’t going to pay, it was ridiculous, and they would take their own photos. When I responded politely that the fee and license structure was standard practice, she proclaimed “I don’t think so!”

The assistant then reminded her that they needed photos today. “What’s the least expensive fee for just the newspaper?” the assistant asked. I pointed out the one-time use option I had sent. That was ok, send the invoice.

I put together the invoice and faxed it over. Then I looked at my email and saw a reply to the initial quote. It was a cancellation of the order, they would take their own photos. I responded that I was sorry it didn’t work out and wished them luck.

My complaint here is not that they rejected my fees, it happens all the time. My primary complaint is that this real estate agent, an awarded and apparently respected member of the real estate community, chose to be quite unprofessional in handling this situation. I don’t know what her expectations were or are when contracting for photography services or any other service for that matter. I assume she doesn’t understand how photography licensing works. I am more than willing to politely explain the process and if afterwards the potential client decides to go elsewhere I’m not happy but I respect that decision.

In this case, I did not have the chance. It was all I could do to not respond in kind. I wonder whether people like her think photographers live on air and grass? How can they expect a professional to give away their services? Do these same folks demand free meals at restaurants, free groceries at the supermarket, free auto repair, free legal service? I wonder how their accountant would feel if these respected individuals demanded their taxes be done for free, not just one year, but every year?

I could post a photo of this individual, or could name names, but this is really directed at potential buyers out there to please understand that photographers are business-people too, with families, mortgages, a need for new clothing and shoes, just like any other business owner.

If you would have some consideration when discussing fees and licensing with photographers we are often willing to work with you as much as we can to accommodate your needs. But, when you blow up you’re getting nowhere. This person responded inappropriately. Shelves of awards and accolades or not, attitudes like that show your true self.

I can say one thing for certain. I will not recommend her to anyone I know who is looking for a real estate agent and will suggest finding another agent if asked about her specifically.

Happy Independence Day

The 4th of July is tomorrow. Independence Day for the U.S. Like any other holiday, it’s much less about the creation of our country than it is about picnics, BBQs, Super Sales, and blowing crap up. Here in Idaho you can buy just about any form of explosive device legal for the 4th in the most lenient of states. You just can’t light them off. Funny law, that. Makes the state a ton of money in tax revenue, as well as for all the fireworks vendors on every corner. A lot of that state income goes to pay for firefighting (federal and state funds), rescue, and law enforcement (when things get out of hand, there’s otherwise not much patrolling going on – if that were the case then my street would be a ghost town with everyone in jail).

I don’t know if our forefathers envisioned our Independence as one of the major economic times of the year. Sure, there were celebrations, and more likely than not there were illegal celebrations as well, maybe even more so than today. I suppose it’s our rebellious (ore revolutionary) nature.

I read an article the other day about a growing movement for the U.S. to become much less dependent on oil (like the tie in?). Not new news by any stretch. However, much of the discussion I’ve seen in print, on television and heard on the radio as well as around the “water cooler” centers around gasoline and other petroleum fuels. Certainly, oil is used to produce fuels. Gasoline, Kerosene, Diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, etc. and the use of these by-products is apparent to most everyone. Fuel to power vehicles, machinery, and to heat buildings is important. The Handbasket of Hell would arrive that much sooner if we no longer had any oil resources available.

But, how many consider the other products that we depend upon equally as well (or more so) than fuel? Think of those things you use every day that are made from plastic or some synthetic material. Most of those products are made from oil derivatives. Some food products come from oil. There are literally thousands of products other than fuel that we use every day that are created from oil. While hybrid cars, hydro, wind and solar power (which have their environmental downsides as well), and other alternative energies are great ideas way past their time already, what about the other stuff?

Now, I’m all for conservation of resources, clean alternative energy, smart management and all that. I also hold the belief that the faster we use it up the quicker we can move on to those alternatives. We’re going to run out, why prolong the inevitable? We’re not scrubbing the atmosphere yet to reduce global warming and we’ve just about run out of time on that front. It’s all about momentum. It takes a train a while to get up to speed, but once it does it’s going to stay that way for a while before it slows back down. Unfortunately, our recording devices aren’t as accurate as a speedometer (over geologic time), nor do we have a lot of hard data from thousands of years ago to make it perfectly clear. There’s a ton of inferential as well as empirical data; gasses locked in ice, soil strata, tree ring data, etc. that together are adding up to just about the same thing. But, again, we don’t have direct experience with the last global warming event so we’re making educated guesses as to the potential outcomes, albeit very educated guesses. Those estimates vary widely as to the severity and the timetable. the closer we get to the event, the more accurate the predictions will be. Like forecasting the weather a week out. Every day the confidence interval gets smaller, but sometimes it rains a day or two early or a day or two later or not at all, despite what the computer model says. Forecasting global warming has a pretty wide margin of error (decades). But, I’m getting off the subject.

I have to qualify my “use it all now” statement. While theoretically it makes sense, dumping all those greenhouse gasses and other matter into the atmosphere in greater quantities than we are now, all at once, say, would be definitely bad for us. The other way, a more prolonged depletion, might allow some of us to make it.

So, back to oil. Here’s a short list of some of those products. What can you do without from this list? How are these products going to be maintained in the “no oil” regime? Some of these products were originally made from corn and other crops but due to the oil lobby and the fact that it was cheaper to make these things from petroleum, put an end to that. We have to make a decision as to what we’re willing to pay for the freedom from oil dependency.

Ammonia, chemicals (thousands), Drugs (anasthetics, antihistamines, antiseptics, aspirin, cortisones, etc.)
All plastic (naptha is the base agent)
Synthetic fabrics (nylon, rayon, polyester, polypropolene, vinyl)
nail polish, Petroleum Jelly, insulation, deodorants, waxes, lubricants, fuels, skin lotion (components), fertilizers, insecticides, insect repellent,
food preservatives, food coloring, dyes, crayons, ink, asphalt (bitumen), synthetic rubber, glue, detergents, glycerin, kerosene

Specific products:

artificial limbs, auto parts, computer parts, building materials, highways and city streets, boats, cameras, awnings, ballpoint pens, carpets, disposable diapers, eyeglasses, contact lenses, fishing rods, nail polish, milk jugs, shampoo, rubbing alcohol, hair coloring, garden hoses, food packaging, paint, credit cards, curtains, caulking, bandages, artificial turf, heart valves, hearing aids, vitamin capsules, toothpaste, shaving cream, shampoo, lip stick, perfume, styrofoam, floor wax, electrical tape, movie and still film (nylon), rubber cement, putty, bubble gum.

Here’s another thought regarding independence. We think we’re pretty on top of things, that we’ve got the life here in America, we don’t have to depend on anyone. It’s never been like that and actually back in the day we were less dependent upon outside help than we are today. Loss of farmland and depletion of other natural resources, cheap labor, and other factors have caused us to outsource to a greater degree than we have in the past. Next time you’re at Wal-Mart pay attention to where your fruits and veggies come from (fresh ones, not the canned variety, although check those as well). Check out your frozen dinners as well. South and Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, China, are all partners in helping to keep us fed.

When I was an undergraduate in Colorado in 1990, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was of the mind set that we as Americans were noble, setting the example for higher standards throughout the world, making life grand for everyone. She hated slavery, which is still practiced around the world, even in the U.S. I asked her to think about the people working for her. She gave me a blank look. “Nobody works for me” she said, like I was trying to trick her or something. We went through a list of products, clothing and produce primary among them, where other people labored, sometimes or often, in poor conditions, paid cheaply, here in the U.S. and around the world, so she could have the things that made her lifestyle possible. Also, what environments are impacted? How many people are giving up their land to provide for us and other “developed” countries? At the time it was more of a mental exercise than a practical one. Difficult to find the resources to have an idea of the impact our middle and upper class lifestyles actually had on the global resource.

Now, here’s a site that attempts to figure that out. To calculate your individual “global footprint”, your personal impact on the world. The Ecological Footprint estimates the amount of land a person in the United States needs to be provided with basic subsistence (food, water, shelter). Space is not considered, probably because it’s a hard one to quantify. We need a small space to survive (you could stay in your house your entire life as long as you had food and water), but we also need larger spaces for our mental well-being, to fuel our creativity and inspiration.

What we do, what we require, what we enjoy, is not in isolation. It’s a complex world full of interdependencies. We have a lot of people working for us.

Happy Independence Day.