TechnoPaul | IS "NO" THE NEW "YES"?

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Editor Note. Paul continues to inspire us with his vision and wisdom on culture, community and lifestyle. 
His commercial photography, with his use of striking colors and strong characters, ushers in a realm of emotion often not seen in photographers his age.  
When we met, we wanted to discuss his passion about the benefits of personal solitude in the ever demanding environment of instant gratification.
We hope you enjoy. 

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Motif No.3: Hey Paul, its great to connect again. Tell us a little bit about you and where your nickname Techno Paul came from.

Paul: Something you’ll discover about me really quick is that I love to tell stories and I see how every thing in life connects together. For me nothing's coincidental. So the fact that I was interested in media as a 12 year old just makes sense to me seeing the work I’m doing now, but we’ll get to that shortly. In middle school, I started making videos for friends and for school and got paid for it. It was an exciting time. My sister was a junior and had joined the drill team and she would soon become captain. They needed some videos created and there I was, an eighth grader, helping out the high schoolers with their video content. I felt so cool … and they were girls on top of it! Middle schooler‘s dream. Well one of those girls named Brittany was chatting with me about my skills and she said something like this, “You’re really good with technology … you’re like ... technopaul.” BAM! It stuck. I didn’t know it then, but thankfully the day I signed up for Instagram I chose technopaul instead of one of the myriad other AIM usernames I was using at the time. Branding myself couldn’t have been easier. A lot of people think that I love techno music. Which I do enjoy somewhat, but the name is really associated with technology.

 

M3: Thats crazy, that you were already seeing your passions develop as a twelve year old. Its amazing how our passions really do grow and evolve with us as we mature in age and perspectives. With that said, take us to the present time, sharing with us what you do for a living, and how you arrived at where you are now.

Paul: I am a full-time commercial photographer working with brands, fashion and tourism. I’m also the Community Manager at Socality, a creative, education and connection focused community organization. Like I mentioned above I started this company TechnoPaul Productions when I was 12 years old. My dad was actually slated to be drafted for the Yankees as a pitcher out of college, but he threw out his shoulder prior. Thankfully, or else he never would have met my mom. And my mom is a singer, actress and interior designer. So, I grew up around sports, the arts and obviously baseball. Dad was my little league coach and mom was my vocal coach. And still, baseball is my favorite sport and music is my first love.

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One of the things I am most grateful for is the way my parents raised me and my sister. They didn’t push sports or their agenda on us. They would tell us early on, “Do what you love and work hard at it.”

Well photography, video, design dropped in my lap, I loved it, was progressing in my skill and I was getting paid for it, so I set my sights forward. I went on to graduate with a BA in Emerging Media and Communication from the University of Texas at Dallas. College was one of the best decisions I made. It’s not for everyone, but it helped me so much in my thinking and perspective on the intersection of digital societies, human identity and civilization. Yes, I took a whole class on viral media, vitality and how it relates to historic plagues. I loved my major to say the least. A semester before I graduated I was offered two different full-time positions at my church. Saying yes to a creative role in the young adults department, I was in charge of overseeing the strategy and creation of all media, digital and physical, for a 1,000 person ministry. It was the dream job I didn’t know existed. But as a 20 year old working a full-time job doing what I loved, I had this realization. I dreamed too small. The story’s about to get good. 

Well, there I am working a full-time job and finishing my last semester of college. As a senior in your final semester, you are required to create a capstone project. After a successful video project my second to last semester, I decided to switch the idea for my capstone to creating a documentary about community, relationships and social media seen through the lens of Instagram. It was called Instagram Is. Through a crazy series of events the project was picked up by Instagram themselves in 2013. Sitting in my office at the church, I’m talking on the phone with Instagram, a global app influencing all of culture, and it seemed as though the next steps began to come into focus. May 24, 2013, is a day I’ll never forget. Instagram Is released. 6 months of hard work traveling the country. The same day Instagram promoted it to 85 million people in total. Now being loaded over 5 million times in 150 countries, My video "Instagram Is" has been harkened as a viral sensation. That viral media class I took became real life that day. I started traveling showing the film in art shows, my platform began to grow and people saw me as this community purist and guru. It was a pretty wild scenario. This single point of inflection launched my career and led me to join the Socality team 6 months later in it’s pre-launch phase.

To make a long story short, I eventually resigned from my job at the church a year later and pursued commercial photography and Socality full time. I’ve had a lot of incredible opportunities to work with some dream brands and visit some bucket list destinations. And It’s been nothing short of growing, challenging and learning seasons in the years since, but I couldn’t be more grateful.

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To tell a good story you first must listen and have care and compassion for the person sharing it.

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M3: Instagram has truly connected the world in so many facets. It has pushed people from all walks of life to share their creativity, their craft and their story. With that in mind, you call yourself a “story listener.” What does this mean, and how has it affect you?

Paul: I find myself sitting on planes a lot these days. Actually, as I write this I’m on a plane to the next adventure. Well, I like to use the free time to turn off, do some work, edit photos, journal thoughts, sleep and read books. I had picked up my friend Matt Knisley’s book Framing Faith and was reading it on the plane. By the way, it’s a great plane read. In a chapter, he mentions the idea of a story listener and that term really struck me. I soon adopted the term to describe myself.

Storyteller is a great term to describe what a lot of creatives do. But I think sometimes in this connected, consumption-focused society we can take stories for granted and in turn people. Storylisteners understand a few things.

- To tell a good story you first must listen and have care and compassion for the person sharing it.
- Telling a good story takes patience, intentional conversation and some level of relationship with the sharer.
- Sharing each story should be done with the utmost care and consideration. 

 

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M3: You mentioned previously your work with Socality, what is it and what is it like to be part of this organization?

Paul: Socality is a creative community whose focus is connection and education. We think of ourselves as a pass through point, like Grand Central Station, of inspiration, education and connection to help get you where you are going. I currently serve as our Community Manager overseeing global communities and Community Leaders.  I’ve been grateful to be apart of Socality since 2013, when it was still just an idea. Because of the prominence my platform had been given through the documentary, I knew the community on Instagram well. So my main role in the early days was helping connect people into the movement who could help carry the vision to larger audiences. 


The experience has been one of the honors of my life. Being apart of something that grew in popularity so quick gave us a whole new set of rules to play by. We are constantly having to think on our feet, challenge the status quo or even pivot. It’s grown extreme flexibility into my personality where I once was rigid, stubborn and easily offended … not that I’m still not stubborn. I’ve met some of the greatest people on the planet and had the opportunity to learn with and under incredible thinkers and visionaries of our generation. What I love the most about Socality is that it isn’t about how much influence you have, how good you are. It’s about us coming together to help each other get where we are going. Think of that classic business slogan All Ships Rise. That’s us. We are in it for everyone regardless of talent or reach.

 
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I’ve believed this for as long as I can remember and I will stand by it til I die. Everyone is creative.
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M3: How has Socality changed your perspective on the creative industry and where do you see the creative industry going?

Paul: I’ve believed this for as long as I can remember and I will stand by it tilI die. Everyone is creative. Whether you are right or left side brained doesn’t matter. The organization and structure of things takes as much creativity as the painter or sculptor.
Before I answer this most of what I’ll speak to is the photo, video and design industries and not fine art crafts like painting.

The creative industry is becoming more accessible for creatives of all types and sizes. Before, you had to have such a breadth of knowledge, experience, a tremendous portfolio of past work to ever be considered for a project. But now the life of a creative is much more visible to society with social media. More creatives are getting work, but the valuation of the work by the client has decreased. Everyone’s a photographer, right? But I think we’ve turned a corner. A few years ago my livelihood was made off of Instagram posts, but it seems more and more those are becoming the added bonus to a broader project. And if you’re still trying to just live off Instagram, unless you have a big following or you’ve diversified across platforms, you probably aren’t getting many paid offers. This shift is because now clients are valuing more paying the same amount to reach the audience they want specifically and directly with an ad using the content you created for them. The fallout of the algorithm I think. So creatives seem to be making the shift towards a more classical approach to be taken seriously.

M3 With Socality you get to work with so many amazing creatives, and as the community director,
how do you feel the need for community evolving? 

Paul: I think the need has always been the same and will be--love and belonging. We have a deep desire to know and be known. As Socality our heart is family and collaboration over competition. The honeymoon is over with social media. It’s here to stay, we said “I do” and now it’s time to learn its purpose in our lives. Instagram is the first social media that came about that became a positive platform where encouragement thrived over negativity. The outcome was connection … a lot of it. I think for a long time the idea to have friends anywhere all over the world was so exciting and new and cool. But the shine has worn off and challenges in life came. And at the end of the day the value of in person relationships always supersedes digital/long distance ones. 

We need local community. We need to be known where we live. Planting roots and settling into an area is so important, even if it’s only for a short time. Because of Instagram we’ve been given the ability to connect with countless people, but we’ve sacrificed meaning and depth in relationships for paper thin connections and we’ve convinced ourselves they are more important. However, in many cases these digital relationships can be lifelines for the isolated and lonely. But if we stay in this paper thin zone forever we’re missing out on so much opportunity. I want to challenge you to reach out and start a conversation with 1-3 creatives you look up to over DM and encourage them. See what happens. I’ve met some of my best friends through social media, but I didn’t leave it at a DM. We both invested and wanted to help and encourage each other in our crafts. Obviously, there are many who balance the opportunity of social media connections with real life relationships well. But for us more relationally inclined, don’t get overwhelmed. And for those who completely discount finding community through platforms like Instagram, I present Socality to you. 
So keep connecting by all means, but don’t forsake more meaningful relationships. 

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M3: We're definitely seeing a resurgence in the importance of relationship in the industry and in social media culture. With a plethora of ideas, people and applications jockeying for attention, what is the importance of solitude in our ever demanding digital age? 

Paul: I’m a highly relational person. I love big groups of people, small groups whatever. It’s all fun and life giving for me. But in many ways my natural bent is to overvalue relationships therefore basing my identity upon the acceptance or rejection of people I knew or didn’t know. Talk about insecurity and shame. It wasn’t pretty. Learning to stand alone apart from the praises or criticisms of others is a foundational need of not just every creative but every human. The solution is creating a rhythm of solitude. Intentional or unintentional separation for a time from normal life to regroup and quiet ourselves to remember purpose and identity. I’ve discovered who I am when the things and the people and the commitments are stripped away and all that’s left is me. It’s not pretty because you see yourself for who you really are. It takes a lot of bravery and humility and honesty to build this rhythm. But if you want to get healthy it’s a top way.

I’ve begun to model my life after the lifestyle of Jesus. One of frequent solitude in the midst of deep and broad connection. Jesus could’ve spent His entire time in ministry spending every waking second with people or His disciples, but He didn’t. He intentionally disconnected from the crowds to remember the why and remember who He was and who He wasn’t.

There’s many times we should be seeking solitude. Here’s 4.

    1.    Yearly, plan a vision retreat week for yourself where you retire to a quiet place
           like the mountains or a beach.

    2.    Quarterly, plan a weekend getaway alone, with a 2-3 close friends or with your spouse.

    3.    Weekly, plan a day of each week to disconnect totally from everything and celebrate
           what you have. Sabbath.

    4.    Daily, seek solitude where the purpose is presence. Disconnect the phone and connect with
           someone you love. Use your lunch break and sit under your desk.

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8: Do you see connection and solitude coexisting, and how is that effecting your personal work? 

Much like storylistening, to speak you first must listen. And I believe to connect you must first disconnect. Our lives have become a never ending inbox of invitations to go somewhere or do something or go get coffee with so and so, that we’ve gotten decision fatigued. We can’t decide what to say no to so we say yes to everything. But sometimes we need to be ok to say no that coffee or that trip or that random invitation to go sing karaoke. But instead we need to accept the invitation into disconnection. Or else we run the risk of losing ourselves in the process. We get burnt out, spun up and stressed out.

Solitude is very closely related to the idea of uselessness, which is something we must learn to be ok with. This story of an old tree from the Tao story explains my heart for it perfectly.  A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together through a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old, beautiful oak tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: "Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?" The apprentice looked at his master and said: "No . . . why?" "Well," the carpenter said, "because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax."

Isn’t that beautiful? It challenges our culture and the status quo so much it is offensive. In order to be most useful we have to detach our identity from what we can do for someone. If “you" isn’t enough, nothing else will be. Get healthy first and then connection becomes a gift instead of a curse. I‘ve spent so much of my life connecting and helping people connect because I myself was seeking purpose and identity, but now because of seeking solitude and presence my motivations when connecting are so much more pure. And If I sense something off I know the thing I need to seek is disconnection not more connection. It’s no easy task seeking solitude, but it’s worth it.

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9: Thank you for sharing these are profound thoughts and I know you read often, what books or outside resources are you using to cultivate these ideas? What books/resources would you recommend? 

Leaders are readers, right? I totally think it’s true. Audiobooks totally count too by the way. Here’s my top list of books I’d recommend that have cultivated a lot of these ideas.

-Essentialism- Greg McKeown
-The One Thing- Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
-Artisan Soul - Erwin McManus
-Out of Solitude - Henri J.M. Nouwen
-Garden City- Jon Mark Comer
-Originals- Adam Grant
-Framing Faith- Matt Knisley

 

Paul Photography: 

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Check our more of Paul's work:
PORTFOLIO
Instagram 
SOCALITY

Editor: Joel Bear
Photography: Joel Bear
Producer: Maggie Bear