The Internet is a fantastic place – and not only because of its contradictory nature.
“Only on the Internet can a person be lonely and popular at the same time.”
― Allison Burnett, Undiscovered Gyrl
But we won’t be discussing how to become popular on the Internet. The topic of this article is different. Have you noticed that, nowadays, the Internet community has divided itself into two camps? Some netizens believe that the Internet is killing our creativity, whilst others, to the contrary, think that it provides tons of opportunities for self-expression. I would like to convey my own opinion on the matter and, in due course, read your feedback because “Conversation is King. Content is just something to talk about,” as Cory Doctorow says.
Before starting to write this article, I decided to study the main arguments of those who maintain the notion about the harmful effect of the Internet, as well as their opponents’ views. Here are some of the assumptions that suggest the Internet is killing creativity:
- Every site looks the same.
- RWD patterns have become habitual, making it a real struggle to break out and be different.
- Frameworks and templates have covered web design. It is dead.
- Trying to get creative will probably be pointless or even harmful.
- Now the Grid analyzes your content to detect the best layouts, colors, fonts, and extra imagery for your site. Such kind of automation and artificial intelligence is essentially taking over the role of a web designer.
- The tools that developers have built to make their jobs easier, are turning on them. The bots are coming.
- Developers have focused all their efforts on making sure they get the tech right, that they follow the right UI patterns, that their sites perform well. They’ve focused on creating a recipe for making websites. There’s no point in being a web designer if there’s a formula even a bot can use.
- The invention of the CMS has changed the process of web development. It allows clients around the world to edit their own content and continuously update their sites without reference to external help, which is great. But in many cases, the CMS has moved content from the start of the web design process to the end of the process, which leaves no space for creativity.
- Designers stopped matching meaningful headlines with complimentary images. Instead they design systems with empty templates waiting for content to fill them. They break sites down into component parts and create style guides.
- Designers start their projects, not by coming up with ideas and concepts, but by creating element collages, e.g. collections of buttons and paragraphs and feature boxes. They design them so that their clients can sign off on the look and feel. They obsess over style, ignoring the substance in the process.
- Very often designers don’t know the context of their designs. And when there is no context/content available, all that’s left are visual effects and polish. The new paradigm of web design is that as long as they neatly organize, theme and polish each element of a website, they’re doing it right. But that is a great delusion.
- The more guides there are, the more they start to sound like commandments.
- The danger is that when too many people walk the same path, it becomes very uncomfortable to create an alternative.
- With so much focus on how to do stuff, how to implement stuff, designers forget their most valuable assets – meaningful ideas. By creating so many rules for themselves, they miss out on those ideas. They put blinkers on, and fail to explore concepts that don’t fit in with the current dogma.
- Pros desperately love metrics. A/B testing, for instance. But A/B testing excludes the rest of the alphabet. We cannot know what would happen if the button were in a different color, a different size, or in a different context altogether. The tests prove nothing. They show particular results from a particular period of time on a particular site, using a particular set of elements. There are simply way too many factors at play, making us unable to pinpoint exactly what determines the results. It could be differences in the technical background of the audience and even affected by what mobile phone they were using. They could be influenced by the apps they are already used to, by their emotional state, by the temperature outside, or whether they were in a rush, or in a meeting, or on the toilet.
- We even have patterns that dictate our page layouts, like the F pattern. People don’t actually read pages, they scan them. They start at the top, going across. Then they move down the page a bit and go across again, before they scan the content’s left side, in a vertical movement. So, we design to this pattern. We put our navigation at the top, our content directly below it, and our sidebar on the left-hand side. It makes sense because that’s how users read websites. But it’s a moot situation. Who knows what comes first, the F reading pattern, or the F design pattern? Maybe people read sites in the way they do because we design them that way.
- Developers are constantly re-engineering the already solved problems at the expense of being creative. They are tweaking pointless things and ignoring the big picture.
- Rules and pattern fatigue as major obstacles to creativity online.
Let this information sink in for a minute. All of the above points really make sense, and that’s why it is not surprising that the web designers’ and developers’ communities are concerned about the issue. Some professionals are even terrified that ‘software Frankensteins’, created to make their parents’ life easier, will soon completely replace them in their work positions.
However, I don’t share the opinion that the Internet is the devil’s lair. I guess the analogy with the fire is relevant here. Ancient people learned to develop use of fire to warm and light their caves, to cook meals and not to burn their houses or themselves. The fire can be extremely useful and utterly dangerous at the same time. Everything depends on your intentions.
So, it’s incorrect to say that the Internet is all porn and advertising. Let’s recap its top advantages for fairness sake.
- The Internet provides more opportunities for creativity and the sharing of creative works than have existed in the past. Can you remember any creative outlet enjoyed by previous generations that the Internet hasn’t enhanced in some way? I don’t think so, and it hasn’t killed off a single one either.
- The Internet lets aspiring writers, film makers, illustrators, photographers and animators find a large audience for their work and more incentive to create more. Younger generations do not remember the dark times before the Internet first appeared. Creative people wrote thrilling stories but couldn’t find anyone who wanted to read them. Those who enjoyed photography and film-making found both totally cost prohibitive. They couldn’t afford film for a camera let alone developing costs and the idea of getting any dark room time to turn photographs from visual documents into art was just totally out of the question.
- Even the creative outlets that we think of as more traditional have been enhanced by the Internet. We might think the Internet would be killing off creative art forms like macramé, egg painting, crochet and collages but the truth is that those, and every creative art form like them, benefit from the connectivity of the Internet. People who enjoy egg painting, for example, can be brought together from all over the world on the Internet to share ideas and be inspired by each other’s creativity.
- In addition to already existing creative outlets the Internet has actually spawned new creative areas. Flash games, website design, Photoshop competitions, collaborative stories, mash ups and a huge number of other creative outlets now exist because of the Internet. Even the humble meme requires some basic creativity.
- The Internet has created a huge range of opportunities for people to create and share their ideas and inspiration. It’s brought creative people together and let everyone with a social networking account create ideas to inspire their friends.
- Over-usage always leads to disaster, be it the Internet or any other thing. The Internet is a great platform to reach the unreachable; it’s a powerful tool that gets you connected to the entire world, formerly an almost impossible feat. It’s all about the way you perceive the Internet. It’s a great knowledge center through which one can get access to so much more knowledge on any subject compared to the early decades with no Internet. There are always positive and negative sides to anything, not just the Internet, when you use it for the actual intention for which it was created. People with negative mindsets will always use it for exploitation and criminal activities, but those with a positive mindset will make the most out of it, innovating and making life easier for the world.
- Talking about FaceBook, Google+ etc, these are just hangouts for spending time and being connected with friends, so that you can get to know people across regions, get to know the culture and life style, etc. As mentioned earlier, use it as much as it’s required. It’s just a platform that can offer lots of things, but it is definitely not a necessity of life. It mostly depends on the attitude of the person who uses them. Some people are addicted – most are not. Some know the way to use the social networks wisely but the others do not.
Here is a small case study:
Mr. A and Mr. B are both talented fashion designers and they have FaceBook accounts.
A is addicted to Fb and he often gets frustrated and anxious when he can’t sign in or the Internet is down. By the way, he has a habit of playing games and the passion of being top among all his Fb friends. Eventually, his concentration is at a low level while doing his work; unable to think clearly, design properly and creatively. Finally he loses his job due to lousy performance.
B, however is different. He uses Fb to his advantage in order to connect to suppliers and other important people from all over the world. By using it, he develops good connections with them, sharing ideas and opinions and they get to know each other’s products. Then, Fb promotes B’s business greatly and his designs become very popular thanks to his experiences, improved creativity and talent gleaned from the ideas and criticism from other people connecting through these online services as well as Fb.
As you can see, all is dependent on the behavior of the person using the social networks. Yes, social networking sites are sometimes very destructive, but don’t forget they have their own positive side too. Everything has its own pros and cons.
- All of us live in an age of advanced technology, so if a person has no Internet at all, how do you suppose he/she going to work in a company or study IT subjects in college?
- Remember that the Internet is not only Facebook, Google+ or MySpace. There are sites like Mashable, C|Net , Reddit , Forbes , The Hacker News , Digg , TC etc, where you can read the latest news and learn about gadgets, security and business. In essence the general knowledge of what’s happening around the world in your areas of interest.
- There are a lot of useful sites, video tutorial sites like Thenewboston.org , NPTEL , Microsoft MSDN pages etc, where you can learn a lot.
- Topcoder.com , CodeChef , HackerEarth and many more platforms are there to prove your worth.
- You can show your innate talent to earn huge money on sites like Freelancer.in , Elance , Upwork .
- Sites like Ebay, Flipkart , Yebhi , Amazon , Home Shop 18 ease your life by bringing shops to your PC, 24/7.
- If you want to unearth some random information, you can see Knowledge of Today. There you will find various topics and documentaries where you improve your brainpower.
- There is this Anonymous group who are waging cyber wars to keep alive the freedom on the Internet whose actions have put PETA and SOPA accounts on hold, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
- Wiki Leaks: Julian Assange made use of the revolutionary medium ‘Internet’ to expose most of the scandals and information of which we are now aware, otherwise we would continue living in the dark.
- Don’t forget the Egypt incident, where the government was overthrown because of the Internet and the dissemination of information, planning riots through Facebook and other sites. The Bottom Line of this thought is that it is all one person’s perspective of viewing these things. The Facebook you think is a waste of time has actually helped its people to overthrow a tyrannical government.
- Dozens of people have always found the Internet interesting. They give a considerable percentage of the credit for their creativity to the Internet. As soon as you understand that you are wasting too much time on social networking sites, you start to learn things that can help you to develop your future. Once you start devoting time to a particular section/area/subject, the Social Networking sites will no longer have meaning.
- Spend more time on Quora, as compared to Social networking Sites. It’s better to gain knowledge than just procrastinating.
- The Internet opens up a whole new realm of possibilities – connections that couldn’t have been possible without it.
- The Internet shifted the value from volume to focus. It used to be that raw knowledge was considered power. Now it is the “correct and relevant” knowledge. And what else can provide that, other than an encyclopedia that is available to you anywhere you go? Moreover it is not just passive – you can interact, debate, discuss and tap into a wealth of wisdom from around the world – leaving you to make something out of it.
- People wasted time before the Internet. Those, who were born, say in 1965 could spend the first 20 or so years of their lives without anything like the web, and wasted just as much time then as they do now. They spent hours watching TV; they gabbed on the phone; they sat outside in lawn chairs drinking beers; and so on.
I can continue this combative argument of Internet pros and cons, but see no reason to continue this. I think that we have read enough thoughts and opinions to draw our own conclusions. We have discussed content, rules and pattern fatigue as major obstacles to creativity online. So where do we stand? Is web design dead yet? Drivel! The main source of creativity can’t kill it. The Internet hasn’t killed creativity, and web design isn’t dead. But generic solutions are really threatening. And the robots really are coming. There are so many tools, so many frameworks. There’s SquareSpace & the Grid and others will follow. Soon it will be practically free to create a nice looking website. There will be super sleek templates and themes, payment plans and production lines. If it can be done with an algorithm, it will be. Maybe it even should.
But remember this. We are not robots, people are different – machines have no imagination. Robots work to a specific set of rules, developed by us. They follow a set recipe. They can’t create something that’s original and meaningful, so if we want to survive we need to maintain our fantasy, just like kids do.
Actually there are two ways for us to move forward. To perfect the recipe, choose the familiar and eventually hand our jobs over to robots. The other way is to break the rules, go beyond the obvious and enter a better virtual reality, a versatile one. Nobody venturing this way is safe from failure. But in the process, we offer what the machines cannot – namely memorable, original and creative experiences.
Which path will you choose? Let me know at the comments section.
Helga Moreno is a learning junkie, requiring a new dose of fresh information every day. She is always keeping her notepad at hand in order not to miss a single thrilling event happening in cyberspace. She diligently puts down all her thought in order to share the most interesting of them with web community in general and TemplateMonster’s readers in particular. For more inspirational posts check her G+ and Twitter accounts.