I recently read an article about a former Facebook content reviewer who was talking about becoming desensitised to all manner of shocking and disturbing things that humans do to each other.
The article made the young lady come off like a compensation seeking victim, which may well be true, but I found myself thinking much of the criticism she received to be unfair. There was nothing noble or altruistic about my response, rather it was based upon comparable personal experience.
As a pimply faced teenager my weekend/holiday job was working in a one-hour photo lab. I distinctly remember my father espousing the virtues of gaining some skills that would be forever employable: “Nobody wants to end up working in a photo lab, but if the wheels come off your life then at least you will always have the option”.
This feels ridiculous as I write it, but a quick history lesson for those who are younger than me. Back in the “olden days” a camera wasn’t a feature of your smartphone. People used to carry around analogue devices to take photos, which were captured on film. These cameras didn’t have filters, or features for touching up images… they didn’t even have the ability to view the pictures you had taken!
Instead you would take the completed film to a specialist store where skilled technicians would develop and print your photos. The store charged you for the service, regardless of whether you had taken a picture worthy of a National Geographic photographer of the year award… or (more commonly) you had managed to take 24 out of focus pictures of your finger, or your lens cap, or both.
One of the “Skilled Lab Technician” duties was to review all images printed, to ensure they passed a host of quality tests.
Think about that for a second. Every. Single. Image.
Imagine the coolest/grossest/scariest/sexiest thing you can imagine.
Now double it.
Chances are I had to review photos of it. Without any warning of what the next image would contain.So I have plenty of sympathy for the Facebook employee getting roasted in the press.
The job wasn’t all bad. I got to see (mostly terrible) photos of postcard locations from around the world, which inspired my own backpacking adventures. Every now and then a truly talented photographer would capture some images that belonged in a magazine or a gallery. Very occasionally a wannabe Playboy model would get their audition photo portfolio developed.
Working in a photo lab taught me more about human nature, stakeholder management and customer service than any other job I have held. These were hard-won lessons that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but by comparison make the toddler tantrums of a Fortune 500 C-level exec look amateurish.
Don’t believe me? Here are some true real-life examples:
- Explain to “bridezilla” that her discount wedding photographer appeared to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
- Break the news to a doting parent that they had left the lens cap on when taking photos of their darling offspring’s university graduation.
- Informing a grieving mother that a mechanical failure had destroyed the only photos ever taken of her now deceased baby.
- Making the judgement call about whether to call the police about disturbing images that appear to contain anything ranging animal cruelty to kiddie porn. Then having to stall the customer for hours until the police eventually showed up (if they bothered to respond at all).
Don’t be an asshole
Dealing with those kinds of issues, face to face, taught me a lot. To treat everyone with respect, because you have absolutely no way of knowing what they are going through. Being honest and upfront (almost) always delivers a better outcome than ass-covering and blame shifting. That it doesn’t cost anything to be nice.
And most importantly, other people’s problems do not have to become my own.
My father couldn’t have been more wrong about the technical skills of working in a photo lab providing a job for life. Somebody invented digital cameras, and overnight the whole industry was made structurally redundant. However those valuable life lessons have served me well throughout my life.
- Next time you feel compelled to vent your spleen at some poor shop assistant, think carefully about whether the problem is actually you rather than them.
- If you liked this post then please share it with your friends.