The quest for originality

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the things that I do in my free time and why I do them. Over the last year, the course I have been studying has taken up a lot of evenings and weekends, as well as nibbling away at a few days of annual leave. Despite this I’ve kept up my work on the Ubuntu Podcast and contributed to the organisation of two OggCamp events. However, other activities have been less lucky: I’ve hardly seen some good friends and my two godchildren recently and there were a few months when I hadn’t picked up my camera at all.

One of the problems I’ve been mulling over is that of originality. Our Ubuntu Podcast is a successful show by most metrics, but we’re not the only Ubuntu/Linux/FLOSS podcast, not by a long stretch. Some are very different, stylistically, from our own. Others are more similar and I have found myself wondering if there’s any point in having several shows that share similarities. If podcasting really is radio that anyone can do, then what is the point of you doing it? If you’re not doing anything original, anything different, if other people can do it, why continue? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

The same thing applies to photography. I’m not a professional photographer, but I’ve enjoyed developing my skills over the last few years. I went on my first photo walk at the weekend, and couldn’t help feeling that twenty photographers walking them same route would come out with pretty much the same photos. Similarly, taking photos of well-known views or places seems pointless when you can find high quality images of the same thing on Flickr. There seems little point or challenge in taking photos which others can easily take too. If there are people making better photos of the same subject than you, why carry on making them?

Is this just trying to avoid being judged and found a failure? To compare your photographic efforts with those of someone who had access to the same scene and come out second best can’t be a nice feeling. If someone starts an Ubuntu or Linux-related podcast, rather than seeing them as a kindred spirit, I can’t help but feel it is a threat or increased competition; that they might do what we do better than us, that our listeners prefer the newcomer.

All this leads me towards the question of motivation. Why do I continue to work on the podcast and spend my time trying to take better photographs? If one can’t make something original, why make anything at all? A lot of my interest in learning how to do something new. The idea of doing a live podcast appeals because it’s a new experience. I’d like to photograph more and varied subjects; to feel I have acquired some new skills. If one finds the process rewarding or fun, or it serves a bigger, grander purpose then that on its own should be enough. Like anything worth doing, it’s difficult to be good at it. If you happen to strike on an original idea on the way, you’re very lucky.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

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    18 Responses to The quest for originality

    1. Ghworg says:

      There are over 6 billion people on the planet, originality is bound to be rare when the numbers are so large. I say forget about originality and just do what you enjoy. Your passion will hopefully shine through and produce something others find valuable even if it ain’t unique.

    2. Amy says:

      Originality comes from personal perspective, perspective comes from your own personality and life experience. The content of something might not always be totally original, but your take on something, how you interpret it and present it for other people to enjoy is always going to be original/different. You’re adding to the debate. As someone who can only just remember to make boxes float in CSS, I have listened to the ‘Tony and Laura’ (sorry Popey) podcast and enjoyed it because it was you guys, even if some of what you were saying went completely over my head! Keep putting you into everything you do and love doing and you won’t fail to find the original.

    3. Tony,

      When I saw this tonight, I felt I just had to comment. The most important thing to remember is that we’re never going to be the ‘best’ at anything. Whoever is the ‘best’ in their field will probably be lacking someplace else. What we all have though, is a unique mix of talents and skills that we choose to cultivate or let diminish. I was at the stage you’re at now a few weeks back. Is there any point in me doing what I’m doing, if someone else can do it better. The internet has made lots of things easier, the main one being showing people that they’re not that special. Imagine winning the 100m at your primary school sports day, only for your time to get posted to the national leaderboard to find yourself in the slowest 10%.

      What you do is have a positive affect on everyone that listens to the podcasts. In a way you’re a bit of an unsung hero with all the time and effort that it takes to produce the podcast, as well as enthrall us with your dulcit tones. Unfortunately I’ve yet to see any photography that I could recollect as attributed to yourself, but I’m sure there are shots there that I’d appreciate.

      The only other thing I’d like to add, is that it’s you that knows you best. If you feel as though maybe podcasting has run its course for you, and in having to spent time on production you’re missing out on other aspects of your life that you regret not focusing on, then you shouldn’t feel that ending something is necessarily a bad thing.

      Anyroad, the post felt a bit downbeat, so I hope my musings will have given you some cheer.

    4. Tony says:

      Some great comments, thanks folks. Please don’t interpret the post as downbeat especially, it wasn’t really meant that way. I was aiming to discuss being different or original and the importance of doing your own thing. As someone has put it to me not, “What’s the point? Let’s quit” but “what’s the point of being the same, let’s be different.” And whether that’s practical or possible, especially for a hobby.

    5. mrben says:

      I think the key is not to compare yourself to others, but compare yourself to yourself. Are you happy with the content in the podcast, the quality of the audio, the development of the format. Are you happy with the improvement in your photography, in the composition, the light balance, etc, etc.

      There is always someone faster, stronger, thinner, prettier, cleverer than you. But there is only one person that is the best at being you, and that’s you. And there are quite obviously a number of people around you who wouldn’t change that, so you must be doing something right. Keep up the good work.

    6. Hugh Saunders says:

      You will always bring something original when you create something. You will find it very hard to create something with no originality – photos taken by different people of the same subject are different. So then there is the question of who’s creation is “better”, yes there usually some metrics, but there is almost always some subjectivity also – are you pleased with what you created?

      Thank you for all the effort you put into uupc, I really appreciate it. I hope you continue to enjoy producing it, and find new challenges and inspiration along the way.

    7. Ebony says:

      If it is a matter of time stick to what you really enjoy and get pleasure out of doing – the end product can be a bonus if it gives pleasure to others. Trouble is these things are inextricably linked to friends, social life etc. If you want to try something new you’ll have to make room somehow.

    8. […] Whitmore (@tonywhitmore) blogged about The Quest for Originality which got me thinking about the podcast that we make with @ciemon, @daviey and […]

    9. I cant see what your problem is. You should be proud that us and many other podcasts have borrowed from a formula which works well. Or maybe its not that…

      Dont like Competition?
      Dont like being beaten?
      Jealous?
      You feel you invented the podcast scene and no one is allowed to do it cause your doing it.

    10. Tony says:

      Hi Ed, I don’t have a problem with other people being inspired by the format or style of our show. I’m not even claiming we invented our format – bits of it are quite blatantly borrowed from other radio shows and podcasts! On many occasions on the show and at talks (e.g. my “Podcasting for fun and fun” at LRL last year) I have encouraged others to start podcasting if they want to. I certainly don’t think other people shouldn’t have a go because I “got there first” (though I was nowhere near being first, not by 5 years or more!)

      The question I’m asking myself (albeit out loud on my blog) is about why we do it in general – I wasn’t drawing comparisons between particular shows. My instinctive reaction to a new Ubuntu podcast is to worry about its impact on our show, usually without having heard it, but the question I’m trying to ask here is “should that be the reaction?” If we just do things for fun and as long as some people listen, does it matter? The same thing for photography – as long as I enjoy it, it shouldn’t matter. But we have to keep stretching ourselves.

    11. Jan Henkins says:

      Hello Tony,

      I understand your feelings in a way, since it’s the same feelings that keeps me from taking the plunge and doing my own podcast. Here I have to say that Jono had a very good point when he said that the main thing about doing a podcast is about *you* enjoying yourself. Whether you have something unique to say, even though it might be important to you, is actually secondary in nature.

      So, even if there are other podcasts out there that covers just about the same bits and bobs as you do, the fact that you are having a blast is the thing that shines through here. Life is too short to be negative, and the Ubuntu UK Podcast helps us all to look at things a lot more positively. Because you enjoy doing it, I enjoy listening to it. Simple! :-) If somebody else mentioned the news about the little widget that goes ping, so what? You help re-inforcing the importance of stuff that way. Carry on please!!

    12. Pete says:

      Hi,

      I see your point about originality and why should you do something if it isn’t “original”, but that leads to the question of what is original. Sure you could take “pretty much the same” photo of a subject with 19 other photogs on a walk, but just like in art class where you have a single model and all the students create very different art from that same model, you can’t take the exact same photo as someone else.

      Even if you took a picture of a flower at the same micro second in time using the same camera and settings, it is impossible for you to be in the exact same position, therefore the light falling on the subject will be different and therefore the photo will be original. Then it’s up to interpretation, like the seven word sentence with seven different meanings: “I didn’t say I killed your sister”

      –Pete

    13. Jon Reynolds says:

      Hi Tony,

      I listen to a fair few podcasts, some produced and presented very well, others not so well but still enjoyable. But I can say with conviction that when my RSS feed manager alerts me to a new episode of UUPC I am honestly a little excited because it IS original, very well produced and presented in a very pleasant, quirky and ‘listenable’ manner.

      Its one of the best podcasts I listen to and I really hope it doesn’t end like so many other podcasts do when in their prime (sometimes for good reasons – end on a high or people just not having enough time).

      I certainly cannot think of another podcast that I could describe as similar to yours.

      I put few things on my website which I think are of any use to anyone, but I feel good about doing it as for me it is a bit of a challenge and it is something unique I have done. There are other things I would like to put up but think there maybe conflicts of interest (with work mainly) which holds me back, which makes me question its originality. Its something I have learnt and would like to document and share but its also nothing new.

      But if I did I guess I would feel a bit unique as I did start a website a year or so ago with this information, written as such that it would have been a website I would have like to have found when I was studying the topic, as nowhere else seemed to have all that information in one spot.

      Anyway… I digress.

      Where do you have some of your photography? I would love to see some photos. I love to take photos, albeit on not very good cameras, but I just love capturing ‘life’ whether its my kids or just some nature/life happening around me. I have thousands of photos of so much ‘stuff’ as I think it is the best way to record memories.

      Some people take like one photo per event, where as I could take a hundred! Why not? Digital storage is cheap so my approach is to capture as much as possible and hope there is a reasonable signal to noise ratio… on that thought I better stop.

    14. Tony says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jon! And I’m glad you enjoy the show. At the moment I don’t have a photo site, but I’m looking at setting one up. (The gallery at the top of this site is more family snapshots etc.) You’re right that we all do our own thing, I guess it’s a case of appreciating it for its own value and whether you enjoy doing it.

    15. Roger says:

      I’m just catching up on my rss feeds after being on holiday, where I took some unoriginal photos :)

      On the point of motivation, isn’t a good chunk of it the old scratching-an-itch?

      Doing something that you enjoy and that is a worthwhile use of your time (however you choose to measure that) is surely a better measure than whether or not it’s original.

    16. So nobody is actually sniping at anybody else. This is good.
      1) We all need to be much clearer in expressing what we mean.
      2) We all need to move on. RC

    17. Tony says:

      Thanks for the comment Robin. The other people who left comments on this post understood what I was discussing, it’s just you and Ed who have taken this blog post as an attack on your podcast, which isn’t even mentioned! I’m sorry you read stuff into it that wasn’t there, but I think I expressed myself fairly clearly in my blog post and resulting comments. More than happy to “move on” though.

    18. […]  opinion, podcast Define ‘original.’ Tony Whitmore of Ubuntu-UK Podcast had a moment of existential angst  about the crowded linux podcasting space, so we all joined in to discuss what original podcasting […]