Stock photos are the Muzak of the Web

 Stock photos on corporate web sites are lot like Muzak in elevators, or the distracting TVs left on in restaurants and bars. They're portions of the user experience that normally attracts none of your attention. If you do stop and think about them, they're just plain weird.

Why does anyone think I'd like to hear a mash-up of Bruce Springsteen and Mantovani? Why is the TV turned on to a soccer game, or for that matter, turned on at all? And why are all these people in the stock photos shown here so damn happy about using their computers?

Everywhere I've ever worked, people stare at the computer screen with the grim determination that befits the job they're doing. This is your job, not a vacation in Electric Lotusland. We can guess the reasons for the goofy grin on the face of the guy on his couch: he's probably watching YouTube videos of people driving their cars into ditches, or poking alligators with a stick, or dissecting The Phantom Menace as the worst movie ever made. But what about the woman on her couch? She must be happy that she'll be doing something else soon, because there's no way she can work an eight hour day on her stomach.

On a more serious note, I just wonder about the value of the investment in these photos. They feel more like the lint that inevitably collects around web pages, and less like some devious graphic cue that reaches into my reptile brain to tickle my happy centers. Me on IBM web site, me see happy people, so me am happy...

There may be no good reason. Once, when the music in a department store was cranked so loud that it was giving me a piercing headache, I asked a clerk why the store inflicted that pain on the customers. He shrugged and said, "Some woman from Corporate comes out here every once in a while and yells at us if the music is too soft." Which is the same as saying, "It's loud because someone thinks it should be loud," which is no explanation at all.

[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]