Jeremy Smith is a designer/developer in Greenville, SC. He runs HYBRD, a tiny web studio. More…

A Lack of Participation

Everything we do online is driven by a pursuit of four goals:

  1. Exploration
  2. Consumption
  3. Creation
  4. Participation

When I first discovered the web as a teenager, my desire to explore, previously satisfied by a few acres of Ohio woods near my home, suddenly seized on the endless horizon of digital spaces. Exploration leads naturally into consumption, as the hunter-gatherer instinct to collect and ingest takes over. I bookmarked. I read, broadly and deeply. I looked and looked, first at images, and then at video as it came along. But exploration and consumption were not enough. I had to create the thing that brought me so much pleasure. I learned to design and code and I built and built and built.

The disappointing truth

What’s always bothered me is that, for all my professed love of the web, I’ve participated very little. In comparison to the time and energy I spend in exploration, consumption and creation, I spend very little time connecting to other people through this medium. And isn’t that kind of the point of the web, after all? In 16 years online, I’ve mostly been a lurker. That fact is very disappointing to me.

I was reflecting recently on my lack of participation. Everyone has reasons for what they do and don’t do. What were mine? I think it’s three things.

1. I have a greater desire for the other goals

It’s not that I don’t want to be an active participant in online culture. I want to connect with other humans. But my desire to search, to discover, to learn, and to build often outweighs my desire to communicate and relate with others.

2. Participation is the most difficult for me

Participation requires the most emotional energy and it feels the riskiest. I’m afraid of criticism, of not being like and accepted, of being misunderstood or simply ignored. Exploration and consumption are easy by comparison. Creation, although difficult, is manageable because I enjoy the process of building so much.

3. My habits are set

My online habits have been established over the years by choosing to do what is easiest and what I desire most. Even if my desire for participation grows and the difficult of doing so lessens, my behaviors are still largely governed by the habits I’ve made.

And now, a reset

I think I’ve been off track. It’s absurd to love a tool more than it’s purpose, a means of connecting people more than people. I need to change and I’ll need to move backward to do so. I need to change my habits, limiting my time exploring and consuming and increasing my time connecting with others. I need to accept that participation is difficult and…do it anyway. I need to change what it is I want and care more about people than my own growth and accomplishment.

<exiting observe mode>

Posted February 8, 2013 at 9:46 am