A Meaningful Connection

"I’ve decided in favor of a more ancient expression that speaks to my love of learning and adventure while doing something worthwhile."

- Stuart Boyd

For thirty years I worked on the bleeding edge of technology riding a wave of what is now called digital imaging. My career began at Polaroid in the mid-eighties; our mission to develop electronics which for various applications could assist and improve on the chemistry which so magically defined the Polaroid instant print.  Over several years we introduced print and film scanners which helped usher in the desktop publishing era along with Apple Macs, Photoshop and fancy fonts.

The days of enjoying huge profits from ink and dyes and paper were numbered through our own and others’ efforts but at Polaroid the idea of replacing film was something hardly sanctioned.  My career with digital cameras flourished elsewhere unburdened by concerns of the printed image and I continued to develop components for digital cameras which changed how people consumed photography; and later for smartphones which placed picture-taking in the hands of a sizable chunk of humanity.

In today’s digital photography and online lifestyles the use of film has been abandoned from the workflow.  In the wake of a sad and well documented tale of the demise of an industry and particularly of  Polaroid in the face of technological disruption, the idea of a printed photograph to be touched, held, cherished and shared seems quaint.

Yet all these years later, the printed image burned into something permanent still persists as the most serious and artistic expression of the medium.  Young people are rediscovering the pleasure of sharing something that can be held and passed around among friends. Something is turning full-circle.

I have always been drawn to work with creative people: artists, designers and photographers and it was that balance of technology and art which made working at Polaroid so much fun and which made working with digital cameras so rewarding as a career. Throughout the workspaces and offices at Polaroid art was on display everywhere: famous works in Polaroid film adorned the walls; professionals’ images strewn on benches used to help improve our products; and amongst it all the work of countless amateurs.  Later, when visiting customers in Japan it was wonderful to see beautiful photographs on display everywhere from adorning the grandest lobby to providing much-needed life to endless gray walls deep inside the factory.

Recently having left the industry, and reflecting on my passions and interests, I realized that among my customers and colleagues, many of the brilliant technologists I had the privilege to work with were in it for the same reason as I: pride that the work that we did resulted in amazing products appreciated by artists and creative people the world over.

Just as paper in the hands of a great photographer conveys a work of art, and follows a tradition born in cave paintings; so too does the wooden boat created by the hands of a skilled boat builder using traditional methods and the best of natural materials.

Most of the archaeological record of Viking ships reveals oak as the principal material for the keel and the load bearing frames – the skeleton beneath the ‘skin’ of the boat providing strength and resilience.  The Vikings traveled far and wide for supplies of good boatbuilding materials and selecting the right tree was, and still is an art form.  At this stage the boat builder has to ‘see’ parts of the finished boat in the tree; something that is more art than science.

It’s what is in common between the printed photograph and the wooden boat that describes an equation to why I’m so inspired by this project: craft + material + tradition = art.

I believe that real connections and experiences have an enormous positive impact on people. As a technologist and business leader, I’ve chosen to build something tangible to express my belief and apply it to a workplace problem I know well: developing cohesiveness and trust within teams.

A recent article by WSJ Technology Correspondent Christopher Mims last week hinted that millennials’ fascination with smartphones and smartphone-enabled social media may have less to do with the wonders of modern technology than a reaction to difficult economic circumstances faced by members of this generation. Quoted in the article, Microsoft researcher Dana Boyd (no relation), states that today’s “piecemeal” working environment make it difficult for young people to find the [quality] time to connect with one another in person — something they really want— and that virtual and/or online interaction through technology acts as “a relief valve”.

Millennials may be a topical study group but we are all feeling the effects of technology on our lives. For many of us our lives are slowly drifting towards a confused sea where work and non-work competes for time and mind-share with those who help enrich our lives.

I’ve chosen a form of technology to help me but rather than build another app, I’ve decided in favor of a more ancient expression that speaks to my love of learning and adventure while doing something worthwhile.

We are building a real, very tangible (made from wood and iron), authentic replica of a Viking-age fishing boat inspired by an originally built in Norway c.1030 on which I hope you will get to sail.