how does the internet shape your creativity? part 1: isolation

isolated - 99 feelings by artmind
isolated, part of the 99 feelings collection by artmind

at the heart of this post series is a question. a pretty big one:

how does the internet shape your creativity?

have you stopped to ponder this question lately? my guess is probably not. not because you don’t care but because you, like me, are very happily dancing in the creative space of the internet that makes you feel good.

as sister diane pointed out last week over at make & meaning, we are bombarded daily with loads of input from our digital lives that has the potential to build up, entertain, and inspire. and yet – are we making the most of it? are we better off because of all this input? in many ways, yes. in many other ways, no.

as i see it, there are three big ways the internet has power over our creative process: isolation, inspiration, and invocation. i’ll be exploring these three concepts over the next few days and i hope you’ll weigh in with you opinions in the comments.

1. isolating

the internet has the power to isolate us greatly. what?! the net provides us more opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals than ever before. how many people in your social media circles are people who disagree with you on things you’re passionate about? how many people don’t share core beliefs and interests with you? not many of the people i share digital space with are outside my comfort zone. we become isolated by walling ourselves inside a community of people who are unlikely to disagree with us.

when i posted a few weeks back on spending more on the things you buy and the true cost of buying handmade, i fully expected someone to disagree with me. but you didn’t. or at least you didn’t comment… which means you probably promptly left my social circle and aren’t actually reading this right now.

we’ve isolated ourselves into a community that supports our creativity but doesn’t extend it, doesn’t challenge it.

when you’re given permission to create but a space that’s devoid of challenges, you revert back to what you’ve always known. you create things that look like what others are already doing. new ideas are judged against what has come before and not on their own merit. you’re creativity is isolated in a sea of sameness.

so how do you break out? sister diane advocates for the very smart suggestion of choosing the inputs you’ll accept and which you’ll let pass right on by. she says some of the web’s most prominent thinkers are doing the same:

…they’re deciding which inputs are most important to their goals, and focusing in on those. (I’m glad to see this happening – there’s a great takeaway here. No matter how much or little time you have for input, you always have it in your power to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of what you take in each day.)

i’ll admit i’ve been doing this myself. you, dear readers, have made it quite obvious over the last few months that you’re very interested in more than just great indie shopping finds. so i’ve made a conscious effort to not just spend every free moment browsing through etsy or reading blogs that strangely resemble my own. i’m plugging back into my favorite npr shows, reading articles on my other interests, and thinking about the online community in new & different ways. what good is it to you if i just spew out the same thing everyone else is?

in an effort to make this blog more relevant, more innovative, more useful to you – and at the same time reach out to new audiences – i’ve chosen to disconnect myself ever so slightly from our creative community.

true innovation comes when we allow our own ideas, beliefs, and processes to bump up against others that make us uncomfortable. that feeling of discomfort, of not quite knowing how to respond, is the true creative process at work.

so i ask you, how does the internet shape your creativity? how has the online creative community isolated you from innovation in your own creative process?

when was the last time you were uncomfortable?

40 thoughts on “how does the internet shape your creativity? part 1: isolation

  1. What an excellent question!
    I’ll admit, the internet poses opportunities for me to reach out to like-minded peeps and I don’t have to interact with those who’s ideas and notions dont interest me.

    However, I find that in life, most people tend to be drawn to similar folks as well, you know it as a clique. The group of people who are so tuned into each other that they leave others out? I see this on bloggers sites, a blogger who responds to a person’s question or tweet bc they know them…but ignores the comment of a newcomer…I’ve been at the end of that and it wasn’t easy to start this whole blogging tweeting thing bc honestly no one I know does this in my social circle.

    I wonder how much of this is really just another aspect of like attracting like? Or perhaps just another, new level of social interaction?

    1. liz – you make excellent points. i think the net has the ability to really amplify the social norms of “real life.” this community insulation is just one of them!

      thanks for the comment!

  2. I like to call that special feeling that Facebook gives me iso-nected. It’s a facade of connectivity, and another way to run around asking myself: “Who likes me today??” in the form of mentions, comments and DMs.

    Sadly, it is the same moment of clarity I felt on I-35, back when I was still pre-cellphone, but others were starting to fall hard.

    I’d be driving in my car and see people “talking to themselves” (that’s how I perceived it at the time) and I thought: “Man, are they so desperate and lonely that they HAVE To talk to someone, even in the few minutes in the car from work to home?”

    We are desperate for self-meaning… and the internet is a great place to pretend we are looking for it… infinite, bottomless and filled with other lonely souls who seem very very familiar.

    1. “iso-nected” – i’m totally quoting you on that. a lot.

      and i am one of those people who tends to always be on the phone in the car… it’s the one place that the toddler is strapped in and i feel a bit more myself. luckily, my mom doesn’t mind our quick 10 minute coversations!

      i agree that the net can give us a false sense of meaning too. i think the important part is the realize that it may be an outlet for our creativity – but it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.

      thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’m uncomfortable all the time- lol! I kid, but really, anytime I look to expand into something new, there is that uncomfortable feeling of leaping off into the unknown. I just trust there’s a very deep body of water below to land in!
    As far as the community isolation, as much as I love the community support, it does seem that we often end up promoting ourselves within the handmade/indie community instead of getting word out and promoting to a larger community, like the mainstream public. If we’re going to end up making it as a community, we’re going to have to become a part of everyday society. I don’t mean selling out, but rather, implanting ourselves as part of the norm for shopping choices.

    1. i completely agree, nicole. and what you’ve said is the real impetus for the direction i’m starting to take some of my writing on scoutie girl. i want to produce content that makes sense & is interesting to both our community and those outside it.

      we need to think about a new target market – and where those people might find us!

  4. I have been thinking { A LOT } about this same thing lately! here’s a recent blog post I wrote:

    I have been feeling very isolated, I joke to my husband I want to embed a button that makes the sound of crickets chirping…. because sometime I spend hours writing something, or creating something, and excitedly post about it, and….. nothing……{crickets chirping}
    It can be very discouraging to say the least 8^(

    1. hi diana! thanks for your comment. i don’t want it to sound like connecting to like-minded people isn’t still a great thing. i’m wondering if you’re seeking out people who might be supportive of you & your work online?

  5. Very interesting. To me, the internet allows me to be connected to people and ideas, when in real life I am pretty isolated as the mom of young kids. The internet and this bloggy community was a life saver for me when I really was isolated.

    However, I do know what you mean about the sameness of thought, a kind of preaching to the converted. And also, the culture of “nice” on art and design and mom blogs means that we tend not to disagree, or challenge or push each other beyond a safe boundary. I personally have felt the disapproval when I questioned bloggers, not from a place of antagonism, but from a place of honesty and respect.

    You really do bring up a good question though. Sometimes, my daily life does not offer the opportunity for creativity that I wish it would, but offers more challenges and struggles. And my blog allows me to edit my life and thoughts so that what I present is only creativity and happiness, glossing over the struggles.

    Is there a place for respectful challenge in this blog world? Is there a place, not for snottiness and snark, but for honesty and transparency? The kind that helps us grow.

    1. I echo Rowena in that this online community has allowed me to connect to other creative types that I haven’t connected with in decades, if ever. I didn’t go to art school and have always done my creative stuff in the privacy of my own home, isolated from any outside input. I didn’t even know this online creative community/movement was here until I took some online classes that allowed me to plug-in in a very comfortable way.

      I am still very new, so all of this is fresh to me. I could see that after a few years of exposure that it could lead to some creative complacency, but for me, right now, the internet means a new found connection with a creative tribe – something I feel has been really good for my soul.

      I suppose at some point, whether in real life or online, it is good to shake things up, travel to new places, meet new people, and get fresh input.


      1. so true, kristen! i’m wondering too if you haven’t run into so much of the creative insulation because you’re coming from a different perspective being a writer?

        also – do you read writing blogs? (lol… that sounds silly) if so, do you think that there is stagnation in that community as well?

        (hint: i have my own opinion – but you probably knew that already!)

        1. Hi Tara!
          Well, I am so honored to be called a writer! Other than my very new blog, I have never thought of myself as a writer :) I like to paint surfboards, create living wreaths, paint pictures, and do other crafts, but since I am new at all this, I am just venturing into featuring it on my site and possibly in a store (no the surfboards though, those are for me!).

          I like the idea of checking out blogs and communities that are outside of the “etsy world” (for lack of a better term). I am going to keep this in mind and challenge myself to stretch a little in this area.

          Thanks for all of the stimulating posts!

    2. hi rowena! i really like the way you contrasted “real life” with “blog life.” as someone who lives so much on my blogs, i really feel that duality. i think it’s important to keep one foot in both worlds!

  6. Nicole makes a very good point about marketing within the circle you are familiar with. I recently had a conversation with my husband that I’ve hit a wall with advertising and need to find new ways of marketing to expand my clientele as well as my creativity. But the thought of leaving the comfort of my computer screen is daunting and overwhelming. However, in order to move past the indie community, which is fantastic, is necessary to grow any business.

    1. hey bridgett! not that you shouldn’t step out of your marketing comfort zone, but have you considered the baby step of marketing to new online audiences in the manner you’ve been working on for so long?

      i think stepping out of the box doesn’t need to be a leap, just a little bunny hop!

  7. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
    Albert Einstein

    I like to learn new things and sometimes jump, leap with both feet in to the uncomfortable because it is new and exciting.

    At the same time, “we” don’t like to feel uncomfortable, challenged or in any way threatened by change. Aren’t we supposed to settle down into some kind of routine of “normalcy” and find acceptance (you know like we all wanted in highschool)?

    While it is fabulous to find an online community that has similar beliefs, the edge is where our comfort meets our discomfort. That is where growth will take place.

    So I say, seek the uncomfortable and have some fun with it.

  8. Hmmmmm… interesting :)
    I just had this conversation the other day with some people, except that we came to the opposite conclusion, lol. We have all moved from a large city to this small town and we all felt that while in the city there is a more diverse pool of people to choose from for your social circle, there are also more people who are like minded, so you end up through a weeding out process, with a very homogenized group of people. Here there are not enough people to go around. If you are a social person, you are forced to hang out on a regular basis with people who are different, but have one or two things that link you.

    On the net, the thing that separates your worlds is the face to face signaling during a conversation, which we take in subconsciously. So while people come to a site such as this one because the topics are interesting, the reason that somebody might not be more open about opinions is that they don’t want to offend anyone and look like the bitch. And in fact, I have done that a lot, because I tend to challenge ideas and am not as good at the democratic filter that everyone else seems to have. On more than one reply I have thought as I type that at some point you will ask me to be less objective! So funny to see you say the opposite, lol! I have all but been banned for doing the same thing at Decor8. I find it very annoying though to see people sucking up to people they don’t even know. There is a difference between being nice and oozing over every single thing somebody says. I choose my friends for their levels of honesty (sometimes with pretty bizzare results) and I try to do the same with my internet community, although that is a much more difficult thing to do.

    I think the internet is going to encourage what people already are. If you are social, you are a social onliner. If you are shy you will probably support that by being selective and choosing supportive areas to visit. If you are negative just for the sake of being negative, the net is a place where you do that without being called out. I am thankful that you are as diverse in your posts as you are. I love that you *actually* encourage thought and opinion. Everybody ends their blog posts by saying “what do you think?” but when you tell them, they like to point out why you are wrong. Yours is one of the few sites that I don’t see that :)

    1. thanks, andrea!!

      i’m one of the few bloggers i know who don’t get hate mail. i think this is hilarious and, i swear, i expect my first piece of hate mail to come every single day. your comment makes me wonder if it might come from my hope that “you” don’t just tell me i’m awesome and find awesome things but that you actually think & comment on what i write…

      i don’t want to pat myself on the back it’s just something i wonder about a lot! i really appreciate your comment. and no, please please don’t stop disagreeing or offering your two cents. i find such inspiration in these comments. i’m not always able to reply but i appreciate every one!

      although, i have to disagree with you on the point about the net amplifying our “real life” personalities. i’m very shy and introverted in real life. i have a hard time introducing myself to people at craft shows and go through a lot of anxiety over meeting people i “know.” but online, i’m able to edit & craft my personality so that i can let it all hang out!

  9. Internet or otherwise, it is human nature to surround ourselves with the familiar. Funny, though, my mother said when I was dating that familiarity breeds contempt, that the more familiar you become with someone the less you begin to like them.

    When I first entered the creative world online, it was merely as a digital scrapbooker. I felt comfortable in my digi world and didn’t stray to far from it. But in that digi world were others who worked with paper. I decided to venture into their world and began to find out that I, too, could cut and paste and create. Then within that scrapbooking world, I met those who mostly liked to create in art journals. When I looked at their pages, I felt this was far beyond me, yet I kept returning. I looked forward to my daily updates letting me know that they had put out something new. I would stare at them and wonder what it was that they had that I didn’t. Then one of them offered a course that I thought would fit yet challenge me. I joined and found out that art journaling was something I could do.

    Having spent time around these people virtually has not changed my other beliefs. I am considered to be quite conservative in many circles along lines of politics and religion, etc. However, I can still appreciate their points of view and there methods of expressing them and THAT is what the internet has done for my creativity.

    1. hey annemarie! kudos to you for seeking out progressively more challenging opportunities on the net. you’re a great representation of the exception!

  10. This post hits home for me, because some days I feel completely inspired, while other days I feel like I am just repeating what I’m inspired by. It’s a hard fight because selling on etsy, it only makes good business sense to pay attention to the trends and find your own unique twist from that. But then again, where does one get inspired OFF etsy?

    I have turned more to books and magazines, and watching everyday life around me. What’s old becomes new again, so even if what I see isn’t current, I might still find inspiration from it.

    It’s a good reminder, to find inspiration out side of our comfort zones, or at least away from the places we spend most of our time.

    great post!

    1. thanks dancing!

      i think trends are less important than ever, thanks to the net. we all have the ability to stand out and build a business or network on our own uniqueness!

  11. I have to agree and disagree at the same time – and sorry if someone mentioned my points earlier. It is very late in the night here, and I was lazy to read all comments.

    Why I disagree.

    1) You say: “we become isolated by walling ourselves inside a community of people who are unlikely to disagree with us”. People like to be with like-minded people either on the net or in a cafe, or in a salsa club. This is human nature. There are tons of research about it either you search for “conformity” in social psychology literature or “group forming” literature.

    2) From a Hungarian point of view – which in this case means a small country point of view – a whole new world opened up for me with this community. We can say that I am/was locked in into an even smaller community. So “isolation” is also a matter of which side you are looking at.

    Why I agree.

    I also realized some sort of isolation concerning visual inputs and inspiration. So I decided to go back to photography, and I figure out photo projects for myself. Also, I buy foreign magazines (we dont have that many home decor and handmade magazines, and you dont find the foreign ones at every corner) ….and I just need more ideas to keep my mind fresh. Luckly I have a part time job as a market researcher, so that keeps the other part of my brain busy.

    1. hi judit! thanks so much for your unique insight. i always learn so much from you :)

      i love that you point out that you have a part time job. so many people are sooooo focused on “quitting the day job” that they neglect to realize what inspiration & drive that job may be giving them. not that it’s not a great goal, but i think we need to be cognizant of how it will need to be replaced.

      thanks again!

  12. I think many creative professions are lonely by nature. Take a writer as an example. Or a crafter or artist. For lots of people with creative jobs, I believe the internet has opened up a world of connections and friends. Sort of the way people who are employed by a company, have work mates.

    It’s quite natural that people are drawn to like minded people, both online and offline. An interesting aspect of the online world is that some people are influential and play the role of the online curators or critics and let’s face it, who would (for example) challenge the ideas of a person who might feature them in an Etsy Treasury?

    Again, much of the design, craft and art related writings on the internet, is based more on finds. Buying things. Cool stuff. Consumption. So one of the reasons I find your new series so interesting is that you are bringing up ideas around creativity. So rare in the creative circles! When people talk about ideas, there is much more space for an interesting discussion with meaningful disagreements, than when people talk about which teacup is coolest or which hat is cutest.

    Another twist to this topic, is that online you get fast and measurable responses. So and so many clicks or comments or responses on your Twitter/Facebook page. This is addictive. Yes, it is. And the more time we put into our digital lives, the less there is for our analogue lives. Both parts are important.

    Finally, about inspiration, and this is perhaps contrary to your post, I personally seek my inspiration outside of the Internet. I need to know that what I’m creating is as unique and me as it can be, and the only way I can do that is by turning off the input.

    Great series! Looking forward to the continuation!

    1. kate – thanks for your comment! i don’t have a whole lot to add but agree with you very much. i really enjoyed your point about the fast/measurable responses you get on the net. i’m quit addicted to this! right now, it’s driving me to innovate. but there was a long while where i was stagnating because of it.

      thanks again!

  13. amazing post tara. this sticks out for me big time: “true innovation comes when we allow our own ideas, beliefs, and processes to bump up against others that make us uncomfortable. that feeling of discomfort, of not quite knowing how to respond, is the true creative process at work.”

    for myself i have a group of friends who have chosen an alternative lifestyle – and it challenges me in such a deep way – and the conversations that are birthed shape my mind in entirely different ways that i’m very thankful for. and i think it does make way to a new kind of creativity. i agree with you that we need to embrace the discomfort we find when people have opposing viewpoints.

    it’s a dance i need to learn how to do the right way. i’m often quite b/c i’m worried my thoughts won’t come out quite right! in the meantime, baby steps!

  14. One of the greatest challenges for me is the impending sense of missing the boat. I also have two very young kiddos and feel the physical isolation from the real world. It’s a part of stay-at-home-motherhood in this culture and I find a lot of community and support online.

    I feel comfortable with my online presence as a whole, I think I’m portraying myself in a very real way. I sell stuff online and I also vend out in the real world, so my challenge is in finding a way to bridge the gap between my internet marketing strategy and my real-world marketing strategy. Things are pretty effective online, but when I try to move that out into the real world it just doesn’t seem to work as well.

    The overall effect is pretty isolating–when I work our summer market it gets pretty frustrating. Slowly, I’ve been learning that anything that takes explaining will not do well in the general public, whereas people who shop online are more likely to read and look for something unique. It’s also important to offer an item with a broad appeal (a mistake that I overlooked for way too long).

    I think I’ve finally nailed it with my latest line (it’s taken so many tries!) and I’m hoping it will be the product that opens the gateway into the work I’ve been striving toward for the last two years.

    Without my online community, my peers, my “co-workers at the water cooler” if you will, I don’t think I would have ever taken it this far. My Etsy team and my online pals have been indispensable for my growth. They’re the ones whose eyes don’t glaze over when I get all excited about the details, you know? Who else gives a rat’s a** about packaging setups? hahahaha

  15. This is a great discussion! Lately I find myself trying to visit more art & photography sites & fewer indie & craft sites. Still within my comfort zone but different groups with different ideas. I find non-constructive criticism hard to tune out, though I’m getting better at it. Recently, I had someone criticize a vintage item in my shop. It was fine that it really wasn’t for her, but I really started to take her words to heart, even though I didn’t make the item, it was made by a highly successful manufacturer in the 70’s & 80’s. She had a tone to her critique that made it sound like I had mislabeled the item (a lightweight shirt jacket, fully lined) I had originally purchased back in the late 70’s. I had to stop & remind myself that she may not have meant her comment the way it came off (abrupt) & that I know exactly what this item is, because I was the original owner. I looked at the listing, as originally written & made some changes to clarify it, for the next person that might come along. She challenged me, even though it wasn’t necessarily constructive & I think it made the listing better.
    I’m not sure how this works for creativity, but change is necessary, lack of change leads to stagnation & insulation. We do need input from many sources. We also need the nurture & support that comes from community. It’s definitely a difficult balance.

  16. Hey Tara,

    You certainly know the way to get the brain thinking! 😉
    A few year’s back, I felt very isolated in the ‘real’ world, having a ‘real’ job and doing the ‘real’ thing. Suffocated in all that you are supposed to do…
    Then things changed and I found myself in this virtual community that lifted all my spirits and helped me breathe again.
    When I look back on that period, it has had a big impact on who I am today: I feel happier, more content and richer then ever.
    I do agree that it’s good to draw back from virtual life from time to time but virtual life also energizes and now it’s just about finding the right balance. :)

    Thanks for showing off my ‘isolated’ feeling too!


  17. I feel that internet has widened my creativity a lot.

    Some years ago I was just doing my own thing at home, found my knit ideas from books and magazines (because that’s what my mother – amazing knitter – always did.
    And then I discovered Etsy. Tons of new ideas, inspiration, fantastic people with even more fantastic works. And I learned I can do things differently. That I’m talented enough for creating myself, not just following the turorials from another knitting book.
    You can’t imagine how much my lafe has changed after coming online with my craft like.
    I agree with Artmind: sometimes it is god to draw back, but finding the balance is most important.

  18. the internet has been a crucial, creative lifeline for me. i live in a small town (a hamlet actually) and there are very few, artsy, liberal like minded people. if there here, they’re all hiding in the hills! or they are under 20, and at school. i think for all us country residents, the web has been a connector in the best way.

    i do hear what you are saying about “preaching to the choir”, i am starting to believe that most of my sales on etsy is going to artists. my challenge is to sell to more “civilians”. try and get them out of the malls and away from the box stores.

    they must be saved!

    i’m getting up the nerve, and inventory, to go wholesale in a couple of brick and mortar shops…we shall see!

    keep up with the fab questions, you’re on the right track

  19. What a revelation, you’ve verbalized so clearly what I’ve been thinking for a few weeks now. The internet crafting community is so self referential and being the nice people that we are extremely uncritical which is sweet but not stimulating. Yes it’s time to break out and I’m thinking the drastic solution is to take it to the real world – as sue said have a go at real life shops and see how people respond.

  20. Love the term iso-nected! It’s the duality of it all…this topic has definitely been on my mind after Sister Diane’s post. I decided to go through my RSS reader and clean. Wow, talk about how crazy it is that we permit all these people to take us our precious moments of time…it was a great exercise to go through and weed out…not because I don’t like people and their blogs – but what was I really getting from following along?

    I think it’s natural to attract and be attracted to folks who you can connect with – similar interests and such. But I’ve found myself getting pulled along the trends as well, which is probably not that good for creativity. At least, it shouldn’t be the major part of it…in fact, a bit of real isolation in the studio is really the most eye-opening time for most creatives. Then you can bounce it all off your peers and keep going in and out of connection…but I still think the real isolation times should be the majority of time spent…for me anyway…

  21. I loved this post so much, Tara! And I completely agree with you that, as wonderful as the online craft community is, we do get in some danger of being in an echo chamber.

    I worry that this also creates a culture where we’re all trying to get everything from each other – friendship AND sales, conversation AND target markets. It’s so interesting to me that refers to site features like its forums and Hearts as “Marketing Tools.” In reality, these are ways to connect with other sellers – not ways to reach the vast market that lies outside our community.

    It’s a challenging place to be, because crafters have never before had such rich opportunities to connect with like-minded souls. I’m thankful for it every day. But at the same, time, my business won’t grow if I don’t step outside that warm, cheery, and very-well-decorated comfort zone.

    Thanks for this discussion! Looking forward to your Part 2 post!

  22. Kristen wrote the following in her comment posted May 4:

    “I suppose at some point, whether in real life or online, it is good to shake things up, travel to new places, meet new people, and get fresh input.”

    I totally agree with this!!!!!! You have to do something different to learn something new or get a new perspective. You can even do something as small as taking a different route to work so you are exposed to new sceneries. That can give a person some creative thoughts. Expose yourself to different people, cultures, even foods.

    I am just now reading this post….I love the Interent..the blogging world etc. For me, it has certainly expanded my creative ways and even pushed me to pursue my path in designing jewelry and silversmithing and other things!! I learn so much from people’s sites and am so inspired by them and they don’t even know it.

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