On Nextness, we talk innovation, we talk inspiration, we talk business and creativity -- our bread and butter here at STW Group. These days of course, the internet plays a role in all of these areas. It’s an engine for growth and profit. A channel to communicate the worth of our clients to consumers, and a medium to engage them. Every marketer, every agency, must understand the internet in order to get the most out of it for their brand.
But if companies, clients and campaigns want to properly “leverage” the internet, the first step is to understand that we are completely marginal to it. The soul of the internet is about love, passion, joy, creation, connection and self-expression. In case this sounds too fey, let’s see how economist Tyler Cowen put it in this 2009 article in Fast Company:
A tweet may not look like much, but its value lies in the mental dimension. You use Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and other Web services to construct a complex meld of stories, images, and feelings in your mind. No single bit seems weighty on its own, but the resulting blend is rich in joy, emotion, and suspense. This is a new form of drama, and it plays out inside us — with technological assistance — rather than on a public stage. Online, you can literally create your own economy. By that, I mean you can build an ordered set of opportunities for prosperity and pleasure, analogous to a traditional economy but held in your head.
Today, we’re going back to basics. No strategies, no recommendations, no campaigns, no monetisation. This post is a love letter to the internet.
So what are these “opportunities for prosperity and pleasure” you can get online? Let’s divide them into six main feelings or experiences.
1. Be fascinated | Engrossed | Delighted.
The internet is home to a variety of beautiful, high quality, engrossing content that you could passively sit in front of and absorb for hours -- for free.
16: Moments -- the little flashes of moments that make up a day. Soytuaire.labuat.com: it’s so beautiful you could just sit there and watch it. But move your mouse around and see what happens. The Turn: engage with the music of Fredo Viola. Deadline: a video made with Post Its. Tribes of New York: watch delightful interviews with NYC’s citizens. Also in New York: Fifty People, One Question. MUTO: a wall-painted animation by BLU. A Wolf Loves Pork.
2. Research | Analyse | Fan.
One of the best feelings you can feel online is the freedom that comes with sitting down in front of your computer and thinking, “what do I want to find out today?” When we get “thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.”
This site collects the daily routines of famous people. At Eye on Springfield, screencaps from seasons 1 -- 9 of The Simpsons are painstakingly collected and annotated with the jokes. Here is a catalogue of similarities between Christian Bale and Kermit. If you love pencils, Pencil talk has been exploring the art and science of pencils since 2005. Madmen Unbuttoned academically parsed the cult TV show (and became a book). And look at this brilliant deconstruction of The Wire. The Cosby Sweater Project. The Lisa Simpson Bookclub. Fox Mulder’s Wristwatch.
Go to Wikipedia and learn about Bartitsu or the Boston Molasses Disaster or, really, anything. On Youtube there are 700,000 tutorials telling how to learn guitar, curl your hair or breakdance. Online any whim for any information can be gratified. And if you’re an expert in anything you can find an audience for your obsession.
3. Play | Create | Remix.
Chad Kouri: Why is the internet so dang sweet?
Will Bryant: It makes “it” possible. Whatever you want “it” to be, you can make “it” happen with rad people that don’t live near you or even smell like you.”
Doesn’t this video sum up playing on the internet? It’s a lipdub, cheap, quick, easy, collaborative, authentic, fun to join-together-and-make, and fun to watch. This kid films lipdubs in an Apple Store. A while ago Newsweek published an article saying Grand Rapids Michigan is high up on the list of America’s “Dying Cities.” So Grand Rapids responded by getting 5,000 residents together to perform a lipdub of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” (Caution: may cause uncontrollable joy, tears.)
These people have recreated the Super Mario theme using a remote control car and bottles. Slaughterhouse 90210 mashes quotes from literature with screengrabs from popular TV shows. Do you like Gary Larson’s cartoons? These people do, and they’re often even funnier in these Farside reenactments shared on Flickr. In BFlat is a collaborative project. Play one video. Play all of them. Play them in any order you want. Will Sturgeon records every element of a Grizzly Bear song for this cover. When Harry Met Sally, the Horror Remix.
At Star Wars Uncut, the cult movie was split up into tiny sections. People chose a 15 minute clip, reenacted it, and uploaded it. These people sent Mysterious Letters to each of the 467 households in the small Irish village of Cushendall to see what would happen.
On Etsy hundreds of thousands of sellers from 150 countries worldwide put up for sale handmade goods they’ve created -- like this tiny knitted meerkat in a Star Trek uniform. A dancing bear invades webcam chatrooms: hilarity ensues. This person has remixed a fourite childhood movie (Hook, starring Robin Williams) into a music video. What if Ian McKellen as Gandalf recited the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme? Andrew Braithwaite from Lawrence Creative Strategy in Sydney taught himself photoshop and made this selfportrait. Why spend an evening doing this? Because it’s awesome, that’s why.
Look at this Three Wolf Tshirt. You probably wouldn’t buy or wear it. Now read the 100+ reviews.
Pros: Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women.
Cons: Only 3 wolves (could probably use a few more on the ‘guns’), cannot see wolves when sitting with arms crossed, wolves would have been better if they glowed in the dark.
For about a week, almost everyone on the internet made fun of this shirt together. If you ever see people laughing at and sharing something you don’t understand, it’s probably a meme. And they’re some of the most fun you can have on the internet. LOL. Intellectual LOL. LOL! Argh, LOL. Why so LOL? Weird. Why are you yelling at me?
4. Express yourself | Build your identity | Curate your personality.
The internet makes it simple to do our favourite thing: talk and think about ourselves. You can stand out or fit in, showcase your identity and change it as easily as updating your Facebook photo.
Jonah Lehrer writes,
At any given moment, our mind is overstuffed with disparate sensations and fleeting thoughts; our different hemispheres want different things and distinct blobs of brain pump out distinct emotions. Why, then, do we feel like a unified person? Why do I feel like “Jonah” and not like a collection of random and stray neural emanations? Because we tell ourselves a story. Just as a novelist creates a narrative, we create a sense of being. The self, in this sense, is our work of art, a fiction created by the mind in order to make sense of its own fragments.
Every social site has an About Me section where you choose how to describe yourself. Other people are cat lovers, introverts, cupcake-bakers, cyclists, mad, happy, poets, artists: you can describe yourself however you like, and list what you love (Arcade Fire, the Beatles, Odd Future, Virginia Woolf, Justin Bieber) as evidence of who you are.
You can take a photo of something that happens in your life every day for a year: 365 Days -- even if it’s intensely personal like this highschooler’s. You can curate photos of yourself and your friends that express who you are.
On Facebook, people wrote 25 Random Things About Me notes that ranged from very personal to hilarious. At We Feel Fine, Jonathon Harris built a program that searches for blog posts about how people feel. You can tell the world what you love, hate, believe (see real time Tweets that have these words in them on Twistori.) This can be my next tweet.
Oliver Burkeman writes,
The truth -- that we need to stand out and to fit in -- has been codified, in recent years, as “optimal distinctiveness theory”. We crave the sweet spot between being too exceptional or too normal, and we’re constantly adjusting our behaviour. When we feel suffocated by sameness, we’ll strive to make our mark, but if we feel too lonely in our differentness, we’ll rush to conform.
You can share your daily outfits and sense of style on lookbook.nu, your hairstyle for the day, what makeup you’re wearing, what songs you’re listening to, how far you ran on your morning jog or new additions to your comic collection.
Online you can craft your digital presence like that pinnacle of self-expression, a teenager’s bedroom.
5. Make friends | Connect.
But the internet is not just selfishly showcasing your own identity. It’s about connecting with other people.
Some websites are built around the straightforward idea of bringing people together, like AirBnB, Couchsurfing or MeetUp. But successful websites like Vimeo, Flickr and Tumblr also generate strong communities of likeminded people who self-organise meet ups to hang out with other users in real life. In fact, you can make friends on any website where people are brought together by shared interests or experience, as outlined in Mike Arauz’s Spectrum of Online friendship diagram. And the ambient awareness and intimacy fostered by social networking updates can help maintain those friendships.
Lastly, there’s the kind of connection we get through not feeling alone.
As Emily F. Popek writes,
No longer does the aspiring teenage punk rocker, confined to a dreary and un-hip rural or suburban existence, have to feel isolated and alone. Sure, his classmates may think the Gaslight Anthem is a Frank Sinatra song, but he can easily find the band’s music, clothing and, more importantly, the peers he craves with the help of the Internet.
6. Have your say | Achieve change.
Online you can feel powerful: working alone to make a small difference or working with others to achieve change. Barack Obama. Case closed.
But just in case you need more: Kickstarter allows you to try and raise money for your creative pursuits. Kiva connects donors with people who need microfinancing. Twitter helped highlight protests in Iran. Act.ly lets any Twitterer start or sign a petition. The Guardian opened up MPs expenses to public scrutiny and harnessed the power of the crowd to analyse them. The Uniform Project was one woman’s idea to raise money for education in India as well as an experiment in sustainability.
When there was a spate of suicides from young gay teens, podcaster and sex columnist Dan Savage couldn’t stand it anymore. He knew that many lesbian, gay, bi and transgendered young people couldn’t picture a happy future for themselves as gay adults, and that was ultimately why suicide seemed like an option. His solution? The It Gets Better Project:
What does this all mean?
As Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger wrote in that old classic, The Cluetrain Manifesto,
The internet is the most liberating of all mass media developed to date. It is participatory, like swapping stories around a campfire or attending a renaissance fair. It provides the greatest array of entertainment and information, on any subject, with any degree of formality, on demand. It is not meant solely to push content, in one direction, to a captive audience, the way movies or traditional network television did.
We don’t think the advent of the internet means advertising is dead. No way.
But we do know that it’s impossible to simply buy attention on the internet. Banner ads that just get in your way, commercial emails you’re tricked into receiving, even clever newer generation ads that use your data to be more targeted or relevant are still interruptions to be crossly brushed aside.
By age 20, young people born after 1982 will have spent 20,000 hours online– the same amount of time a professional piano player would have spent practising. So they immediately see through gimickry like “viral” videos that are riddled with product placement, communities where companies don’t act like humans or allow them to be human either, or microsites where they’re expected to wait for Flash to buffer while they could be making their own videos with their friends.
Companies have to try and tap into the excitement -- or at least the autonomy, positivity and limitless opportunity -- that most of us feel when we sit down in front of the internet. Is what we produce genuinely fascinating, detailed enough for fans to stick their teeth into, flexible enough for them to play with and co-create? Does it allow people to bolster their image or tell their stories? Can they connect with others through using it, or have a say in its development?
Well, that’s all food for thought. But for now, go online and play!