I used to think of communication in one-dimensional terms: using language to represent our empirical observations to each other. The Internet has taught me some incredible things about how we communicate with each other, and what creates community. We have ideas, we need a medium of expressing them. The most popular medium is language, which engages our intellect using shared conventions (logic, cultural context, etc.).
With the widespread adoption of sites like Instagram, Pinterest, Path, Svpply, the trend seems to be clear. We are no longer using words to communicate on the Internet. What was so attractive about Blogger that hasn’t really been discussed rigorously, though we all understand it intuitively, was that it created a platform for anyone to express herself on the Internet. By referring to expression, I don’t mean people who have something to say, in the sense of politics. I more mean it in the sense of the girl in middle school who decides to dye her hair purple. It’s a platform for the aesthete in all of us. It is a way of expressing an emotional truth through metaphor. And language is a metaphorical representation of empirical observations – as is art. The difference, though, is that the conventions of language are largely fixed, bound in logic and OED definition*, while those of art are fluid and constantly in evolution. And so, when done well, art can better represent emotional truth than language – or, at least, with less friction. Sure, we all know that, right. Communities and spaces exist where we can share emotional truths with groups of people. This happens in Church, and through cultural traditions, in fashion and in song, where we are not expressing opinions through language, but through art. The evolution of the networking on the internet away from, say, long form content as Elad Gil describes it, to express aesthetic sensibility, to art. Elad wisely says that it is the friction of adopting a longform piece of content that prevents longform content communities from going viral – a problem Pinterest clearly does not have.
It is the act of sharing emotional truth, as directly and purely as we can, that makes a community. The generation of social networking sites that can properly capitalize on this trend will see great rewards, as will their members. Pinterest is an obvious example, and its explosive growth (11 million monthly views in December, invite-only, only a year old) reflects an interesting evolution in expressing oneself in the name of community. They have done so without language whatsoever, and purely through images. The effects are immediate and striking. But here is a worry. Once a mode of communication is made manifest, enters cultural consciousness, it inevitably falls under a desire for convention, order, and logic. And does that damage the purity of emotional truth? If we are all explicitly trying to express our aesthetic sensibilities as a way of creating community, can we still do it as well? Does bubbling an experience like this up from the subconscious succeed in invalidating it? Personal brand is a subject of irony among the digerati of late. That’s a worry about what’s happening online. We’re so explicit about how we communicate, that it doesn’t work anymore. But that’s just a thought – this is meant to be an optimistic post.
*Language is fluid, but against the demands of the form. Art is necessarily fluid.