I see this photo everywhere. It pops up in my RSS reader at least once or twice a week.
Sometimes the blog post using it is about writing or being a writer. Sometimes it’s about productivity. Sometimes it’s about workplace issues of some sort or another.
Most stock photos are pretty generic. If a picture says a thousand words, the majority of stock photos are good for only 25 or 30. You can get what the photographer was going for quickly and easily. Subtext is not common.
But I’ve seen this so much I’ve begun genuinely wondering who this guy is and what his backstory is. Here’s the message the photo seems to be trying to convey:
A young developer at a startup with an open floor plan has taken his laptop, which is low on power, to one of the cafeteria-like booths it offers in its open floor plan office for when workers want to get away from their desks in order to fix a problem that’s frustrating him.
How am I putting that together?
- He’s clearly no older than 30 and is probably closer to 25.
- Laptop stickers for two different versions of HTML, Github and other tech-related resources.
- The booths are colorful but clearly seperated, indicating a workspace that is usually open but where some personal time is still needed.
- The guy’s casual wardrobe indicates there’s a relaxed dress code if there is one at all, which I’m associating with a tech company, probably a newer one.
- He’s rubbing his head and looking wide-eyed at his computer, obviously trying to crack some problem that’s plaguing him.
- His laptop is plugged in. Based on my experience, developers and designers don’t bring their power cords with them unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Those are assumptions based on my own personal experience and worldview. There are plenty of alternatives, of course.
He could be using his friend’s laptop at a Noodles & Co. to update his resume and just found out his significant other broke up with him because she changed her Facebook relationship status.
He could be a writer working out of a coworking space who just misspelled “mythology” for the fourth time in a row and is wondering whether they’re hiring at Peet’s because this clearly isn’t working out.
He could be reading news of a new iPhone coming out soon and is mad because he just upgraded two months ago.
You could write any number of stories about this or really any other photo. You can assign the person any number of motives or personality traits based on his posture and expression. You can put him in any number of situations based on his environment and the items he’s interacting with. The possibilities are plentiful.
If you wanted to you could concoct a whole life for this individual that’s lead to this moment and forecast what his future holds, using any number of potential choices to create endless possible outcomes.
For me, it’s become a game. Every time I see this photo pop up I’m going to imagine a whole different set of circumstances for him. If people are going to keep using it, I’m going to have some fun with it.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.