I feel better now; the website is coming along fine and although it clearly won't win any awards for cutting edge use of HTML and CSS, it will be a better experience for our LensWork viewers, much easier to navigate, and flexible enough for us to add tangible content in ways that were simply not practical with our old design. We're hoping to launch next week. Whew!
In this long process, I think I've realized why it's such a chore for me. It's simply that there is so much technology in my life that at times I have to pick and choose which areas I'll attempt to master — or at least develop some competency in. As an artist, as a photographer, as a storyteller, I have chosen to master (or develop competency in) imaging technologies (cameras, Photoshop, Lightroom), layout and publishing technologies (offset printing, digital printing, InDesign, Acrobat), and audio recording (microphones, recording hardware, Audition). That's a pretty large plate full of stuff to master. I've done pretty well, I think, with these, but that leaves several acres of technology beyond my reach.
I'm not nearly as fluent as I'd like in: eBooks, video production, network management, database stuff, and HTML. I'm barely beyond beginner level on all of these. Okay, even that might be a bit of a generous assessment of my skills. Okay, with HTML I'm about in second grade after being held back a year.
And there is everything else of which I have chosen purposeful, 100% ignorance: Flash animation, video games, SQL, PHP, server based software, Illustrator and the whole world of vector graphics, web delivery to cell phones, HDTV, MySpace/Facebook/Twitter and anything to do with social networking, car stereos, home theater, blu-ray … this could get tiring.
And I've not mentioned the world beyond this narrow circle that others in society value so highly and work so hard to master: golf, fishing, pool, basketball, football, hunting, cooking, woodshop, boating, shopping, skiing, and a gazillion other things I don't have time for. I do make time for watching baseball. That's about it.
A good friend of mine once told me that the process of getting older is the process of letting go; we must learn, she said, to let go of things that aren't important to us so we have time for those things that are. The corollary to this is that knowing what is important is the necessary prerequisite. For me, that's simple: it's photography, not web design. But, there is that pressure to do it all, relentless, seductive, like Circe calling the sailors, perhaps we should tie ourselves to the mast, like Homer, so we can resist.
Having been a part of it for so long, I can tell you that the purpose of the consumer electronics industry is to convince us that we cannot live without their products. Best Buy, Newegg, et al exist to both serve our needs and to tell us what are needs are. One of Greg Brown's lyrics hits pretty close, "There'll be one corporation selling one little box — it'll do what you want and tell you what you want and cost whatever you got." I'm not quite that pessimistic, but I understand where he's coming from. Where do we say enough is enough?
So, it's not that I don't appreciate what HTML and CSS can do — they're pretty amazing when you really look at what they accomplish in the hands of talented people — but rather that my interests are focused fairly narrowly on photography. I live, eat, and breathe it, as they say. Between publishing LensWork and LensWork Extended, working on my own photography, and helping other photographers as best I can with their creative process, (plus being a husband, father, grandfather, brother, boss, and friend to a bunch of people I really care about) there is just precious little time for mastering all the technologies I'd use if I could.
This does leave me, sometimes, wishing things were easier — and cursing things like HTML. Or wishing that life wasn't so short. Or that things would just slow down. Or that I was a whole lot smarter. But, it is what it is. I'll stop my complaining and just have to accept that none of us can possibly master everything we'd like to — especially me. And be grateful that I know just enough HTML to struggle through it and make a website that is at least functional. But of that, I guess you'll be the judge.