Images make your blog more interesting and inviting to readers. They give your content management system (CMS) something to display as a thumbnail in the “related posts” and similar widgets. They can even get you more hits if users are searching images on Google and decide to click through to your page. If you’re like me, though, you don’t usually have the time or the budget to take your own pictures. What’s the best way to find high quality images to use on your blog?
First, lets talk about what you shouldn’t do. You should never just download an image off someone’s website and use it, unless you know the license terms. The same goes for scanning anything out of a book or magazine. Despite the currently prevailing “wild west” mentality in the blogosphere, it is illegal to use images unless you have a license. Besides the fact that we all want to be good citizens, someone who catches you using their copyrighted media without permission can usually, depending on the country where your host is based, get your website shut down for a few weeks while your lawyers sort things out. It’s rare for this to actually happen, but rare is not the same thing as never. Personally, I try to stick to public domain and CC licensed images. When I have to use a copyrighted image–usually because I am blogging about a television show–I write a justification of why my usage falls under “fair use” and put it in the alt text of the image. Better safe than sorry.
Luckily in the past few years a number of excellent sources have emerged for high quality, free images with known licenses. The six on this list are some of my personal favorites.
1) Wikimedia Commons – Usually the first place I try. This site not only contains all the images used in Wikipedia, but they keep uploading other public domain image collections as they become available. Every image in their database has a page which gives you the license type and other meta-information and has links to download the image in various sizes. The only drawback I’ve found is that sometimes when I find a really good picture for a topic, it turns out that Wikipedia has already used it, which makes me look like I use Wikipedia for all my research. Also, be aware that some of their images have noncommercial licenses, which are fine for use by a nonprofit like Wikimedia, but do not allow the image to be used on a monetized blog.
2) Flickr – The mother-lode of free images. Not only do individuals share their images on Flickr, but museums and archives, from the Smithsonian to the British Library, are increasingly using the site to serve their image collections. Many image are covered by a free license, and the license type is clearly notated. As long as you know what you’re looking for, you can usually find it on Flickr.
3) The US Government – Under US copyright law, most images created by government employees “in the regular course of their jobs” are automatically in the public domain. Many agencies maintain large image collections, most of which are listed on the link above. If you are looking for pictures of animals or landscapes, the National Park Service is a particularly good bet. And, of course, the military loves to post pictures of ships, planes, and tanks.
5) Many Art Museums are in the process of digitizing their holdings and making them available online. Any 2-dimensional representation of a work of art produced prior to 1923 is definitely in the public domain, but its still good manners to credit the museum from whose site you downloaded it. Rijksmuseum (in Amsterdam) and The Norton Simon (in Pasadena) are two examples of museums with large searchable collections online.
6) Pond5 sells stock media, especially things like backgrounds, music, and sound effects for film makers. Recently, though, they have added a free section which contains public domain images and other media, mainly gleaned from US government agencies. Because they mirror the NASA image collection, they are particularly useful if you need pictures of airplanes, astronauts, or celestial objects. While you’re there, create a Pond5 account so you can get on their mailing list. A few times a year they e-mail out links to download free samples.
Tonight I think I will depart from my usual blogging style. It’s a beautiful spring evening, and I’m in the mood to ponder big ideas. I thought it would be fun to list a few of my personal predictions for major social trends that will happen over the course of the 21st century. These are ideas that I’ve had kicking around my subconscious for a few years. Ideas are all they are; in most cases I have done little or no research or theoretical work on them. Actually, the only qualifications I have as a “futurist” are the thirty years I’ve spent reading and writing everything I could find and the years I was in college learning how to be a professional analyst and forecaster–which is less impressive than it sounds, since the educational system in this country rarely encourages students to think more than five years out. In 85 years or so I’ll probably be dust, but maybe someone will dig up a copy of this post on whatever passes for an Internet by then and have a good laugh over how many of these came true.
All of these predictions apply only to Western Civilization, and then only if Western Civ. continues to be allowed to chart its own destiny, rather than being conquered or assimilated by some other culture.
1. The End of Binary Gender
Few myths have dogged out society as persistently and perniciously as binary gender, the idea that people are either “men” or “women” and everything else is an aberration. I firmly believe that gender is a complicated construct and that, in fact, it is unlikely that any two people are the same gender. There are already many signs that our society is preparing to embrace a much wider interpretation of gender. In another couple of generations, the gender of of another person will cease to matter unless someone is trying to decide whether to mate with them, and possibly not even then.
Once this happens, it will have two subsidiary effects, which are also already beginning to show themselves.
a. The Redefinition of Marriage
As soon as society finally accepts that there are more than two genders, they will need to throw away the notion that marriage is between a “man” and a “woman”. This will open the door for dozens, or hundreds of different forms of marriage and domestic partnership, with different combinations and numbers of partners, limited only by the participants ability to draft a valid contract.
b. The End of Male Chauvinism and Privilege
Once we realize that “male” refers to a biological state, and it becomes increasingly easy to change that state, the old notions of male superiority will finally die. This doesn’t mean that some genders will not enjoy a competitive advantage in certain times and places, however. For instance, in Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men, she actually argues that people with more feminine traits are now enjoying a relative advantage in modern workplaces.
2. The Decline of the Middle Class
The bourgeoisie grew from being a tiny and relatively uninfluential segment of the population in the middle ages to being the dominant class in Western Civ. in the 20th century. While most bourgeoisie believe that his represents some sort of divinely ordained natural state, the fact was that the new economies of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution required a large middle class to function. That is no longer the case. Now their numbers and political influence are steadily declining. Expect most of them to be reabsorbed into the proletariat and the aristocracy/oligarchy by the end of the century. This trend also has subsidiary effects,
a. Temporary Ascendancy of the Intelligentsia
I use the word Intelligentsia in the same sense as historian Arnold Toynbee used it in his Study of Civilization: a member of a different civilization that learns enough of the technology and external culture traits of the dominant civilization to function in it at some level, yet is never entirely a part of it. As Western Civ.’s native middle class dwindles, we increasingly import professional and technical workers from other civilizations to make up for temporary shortages. At the moment, the presence of large numbers of intelligentsia in our civilization make the middle class seem more robust than it is. However, since very few will ever be assimilated and become full members of our culture, they don’t count. Eventually we won’t need nearly as many of them and we will stop importing them.
b. No Change or a Positive Change for the Intellectual/Creative Class
We will still be needed to educate and advise the aristocracy and to create culture for the whole society, so our relative numbers will stay about the same. Once we again rely on the aristocracy for patronage, our job stability and renumeration may actually improve. Of course, all the pseudo-intellectuals and poseur artists are actually members of the bourgeoisie in disguise, and will find they have no such protection.
3. Decline of Democracy
Democracy has had its longest and most successful run so far, but it is on its way out, at least in the “one citizen, one vote” sense we know it in the United States. As the middle class disappears the aristocracy will again find ways to disenfranchise the proletariat (assuming the proles are interested in voting at all). This sounds like a bad thing, and it could be–particularly if it allows our culture to swing back towards facism. On the other hand, it could allow people who actually know enough to make decisions start undoing some of the damage caused over the last hundred years by demagoguery and populism. Whether it’s ultimately good or bad, though, this change is going to happen. Democracy is just one of many possible political systems, and nothing stays the same forever.
4. Reevaluation of Education
Our current educational focus has long been on educating the middle class. Once most of them are gone, the educational system will once again split into a system of education for the aristocracy and a system of training for the proletariat. This is already happening; just compare the programs at Harvard with those at University of Phoenix.
5. Abandonment of Money
Money, in the sense we usually think of it, mostly matters to the middle class. The proletariat never has much of it, whereas the aristocracy handles it only in an abstract sense. The basic functions of money–a medium of exchange, a store of value, and unit of account–will be increasingly served by other media. For instance, computers of the future will be able to immediately compare the relative values of labor and commodities and allow frictionless barter, removing the need to translate everything into currency as a unit of exchange. Material goods in general will become far less important as most possessions become virtual and cheap 3D printers and similar technology allow anyone to manufacture anything for which they have a computer model, then recycle the material when they are done with it. Energy and intellectual property will become the only stores of value that matter. Energy will probably become the unit of account, because anything can be expressed in terms of energy. Naturally, we will need to revise our entire concept of intellectual property.
6. Changing Perceptions of Space and Distance
As telepresence becomes “as good as being there” and most property is either virtual or manufacturable on demand, there will be less and less reason to travel. Few people, even the very rich, will have any incentive to ever go more than a couple kilometers from their homes. The physical world will become much smaller, while the virtual world becomes much bigger.
What form these homes take depends on our ability to control overpopulation. With a reasonable population density everyone, even the poorest of the proletariat, will be able to live in idyllic villages. A more likely scenario is for most people to live in massive arcologies or other high density mega cities, where technology races constantly to ensure the survival of people for the minimum possible resource cost.
The Two “Wild Cards”
Looking at the list I just typed, I actually feel like my predictions are all throughly plausible. There are two factors so powerful that no one can account for their effects, though. The first, which will almost certainly be negative, is climate change. If the changing climate damages our biosphere too badly, it is possible that we will see a significant portion of our population killed off, while the remainder have to abandon all technology and culture that doesn’t directly contribute to survival. If that happens, the survivors could become the futuristic equivalent of Greenland Inuits or Saharan nomads. In that case, all bets are off. The other factor, which will probably be positive, is space travel. We are entering an age when commercial space travel will become viable. Potentially, the ability to harvest energy and materials from the rest of the solar system, combined with the new cultures that will develop among space travelers, will change our society in was that no one could predict.