20
Jul
10

A Web of One’s Own

[July 20, 2010]

At this point in the evolution of post Y2K society, I think we can assume that digital space is no longer a novelty. It’s where the telephone was in the 40s, perhaps, or TV in the 60s. While there are people whose access to the 3-double-ewes is limited, the lore of the online world has spread far and wide. Google up “baby’s first website” and see just one random example of how integrated digital space is, not just into our lives, but into our consciousness.

So if it’s not the novelty, what’s driving Americans to spend so much time online? I suppose one way to look at it is to track what they’re doing there and, digital space being the alpha2omega-omnibus that is it, someone has.

Yet, intuitively, I can’t help thinking these detailed statistics fail to get to the underlying cause. Leaving aside the percentage of the population who spend untold hours sending College Humor bit.ly’s to every available networking medium—there has to be more to our growing obsession than “OMG” and “ROTFL.”

While there’s no arguing that the concepts “useful, entertaining and fun” are enough to generate hours of interest, the flavor would have gone out of that gum long ago if the entire experience of going online didn’t fill a deeper need.

Beyond function…
It’s the need for personal freedom. That is, not in the far more important, political sense of universal rights—but the freedom everyone needs to have a mental “room of one’s own.” However you choose to imagine it, that “room” is the space in your heart and mind only you can enter.

To varying degrees, the time we spend online—following a personal train of thought that defies logic—equates very well to the wandering mental state we know from dreams and other forms of wishful thinking. And as digital space becomes more sophisticated, we encounter more sites with a feeling of dimension, or real time responsiveness.

Yet any site, whether arrived at by choice or accident as we continue to meander, can encourage our private inner world to thrive. Lights come on, windows are thrown open, and we breathe a different kind of air, if only for a short time.

On top of that, the total experience of drifting in this way from zone to zone, is one we can achieve without intensive training, with no self-sacrifice, no rites of initiation.

Just a slice of freedom, available for a monthly fee.

…to a flexibly defined sense of…
OK, that’s a lot of weight to put on youraveragewebpage.com, but it does make me wonder if designers and content managers can harness that wandering impulse, capture some of that same experience, and with it more “viewers.” Can we have a new generation of sites that offer:

• Choice: The freedom to select what each page will display
• Integration: The freedom to weave in elements from any other related or unrelated site

• Play: The freedom to lose ourselves here and there in relaxation

• Voice: The freedom to support, protest, share, edit—at least for our own use—all content

…whatever.
Up to a very limited degree, the modules available at iGoogle, sort of suggest what I imagine. But what if we took the concept further? What if, instead of publishing bundled up sites, we switch to publishing modules—which users can capture in any order at any time and arrange on screen, on wall, on sheet, on arm?

Apple-Apps aren’t the answer I seek: They’re simply a later stage in the evolution of the boxological constant. For a new kind of digital space, I need something more than a collection of features to “customize.”

I need, in fact, a Web of my own.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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