Looking at Very Old Photos Has Changed My Perspective on Business and Life in General
(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)
If you could name one website that’s truly the best for business what would it be? A big media site like CNN or Fox News? A business site like Entrepreneur.com? A financial advice site? A site that’s aimed at your industry? Maybe. But for me it’s none of these (sorry, Entrepreneur.com).
In my mind, there’s only one website that — for at least the past seven years — has provided me the most help running my business.
That site is Shorpy.com. Named after a 12-year-old coal miner whose photo and thousands of other old (mostly century-old) photos that have been restored and digitized, Shorpy let you look at the most particular details of people, places and things that have long ago disappeared. Go there now. Do you see what I see? Here’s what I see.
I see a photo of an office from 1923. It’s open plan…just like today! But there are no computers or advanced communication devices. There are no Keurig coffee-makers, vending machines, copiers or high-speed printers. There’s probably no air conditioning and I bet it got pretty cold in there during the winter. I’m sure inside the walls there’s asbestos and non-fire-retardant materials. There are definitely no safety posters on the walls. People are smoking too. When I look at this photo I appreciate how nice my office — and other offices — are today and how much better is the working environment we all have now.
I see an old car. It looks really cool. But look closer. It’s tires likely blew out every few hundred miles. It leaked oil and parts were tough to come by. It was slow, made a lot of noise and was doubtless uncomfortable for anyone sitting in it for more than 10 minutes. It also likely didn’t last very long without a lot of repairs and maintenance. Let’s face it: it was a death trap on wheels. I bet it couldn’t make it from Philadelphia to New York — a journey I frequently take — in a day and definitely not the two hours it takes me in air-conditioned (or heated) comforted while I listen to satellite radio and my tush is warmed by its digitally controlled heated seats and my head protected by an airbag if I’m ever in an accident.
Speaking of travel, I see a plane circa 1915. Good Lord, people flew in those things? When that picture was taken, the airline industry was still decades away from the jet engine. Turbulence must’ve been a ball back then. Looking at this picture I think, despite everyone’s travel complaints, how lucky we are to sit in comfortable seats, in the sky, drinking G&T’s and enjoying an unsurpassed level of safety and convenience while travelling thousands of miles in just a few hours. And c’mon…it’s mostly on time.
In this picture I see my kids…in 1910. Oh, and don’t you deny it: you see yours too. I see that kids over a hundred years ago were driving their parents crazy too. I see boys being boys. I see kids getting up to the same nonsense that my kids get up to. When it comes to parenting, Shorpy has taught me to choose my battles.
I see a hospital operating room in Detroit from 1909. Maybe our healthcare woes today aren’t so bad after all, right?
I see a 1938 photo of a normal family in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, that is similar to mine and yours. Don’t they look familiar? I think to myself how many people still living can recognize those people? Probably a few — their kids or grandkids. But then I think about how, in just another generation or two, no one will recognize them. Or remember them.
I bought a giant version of this photo from Shorpy (they sell this stuff, you know) and it hangs in my living room. I look at it all the time. Why? Because I see the same Market Street with Philadelphia’s City Hall in the background that I’ve known all my life. Except there are people scurrying around on it in 1904, taking care of their business, talking with friends, worrying about their problems, dealing with the stresses of the day. They’re very, very busy. Oh, and they’re all very, very dead.
Don’t you see that? Nothing’s changed and everything’s changed…for the better. Everything matters and nothing matters.
That’s why Shorpy is such a great site for business people like myself. It teaches me with its daily emails (which I open every time) that all of my problems are relative, that people had the same problems a hundred years ago, they’re all dead and a hundred years from now I’ll be dead. That missing a flight, losing a customer, failing to meet a deadline…it’s happened before and will happen again. That offices, planes, cars and life really are better in 2018 than they were in 1918, despite everyone’s kvetching.
So the next time you’re feeling down or the problems of your business or life are getting to you, just open up a few old pictures from Shorpy and you’ll be reminded of the short time you have on this planet and how your big ‘ol problems aren’t so big in the scheme of things.