It seems like a ridiculous question on the surface. Most people would say yes because they know how to update their status on Facebook, visit a website or check their email. When one of my mentors asked people this question, and they said yes, he would say “great show me something that you’ve made using the internet.”
Using the internet to do nothing other than upload pictures, update your status, and check your emails is like driving your Ferrari in circles around a grocery store parking lot. You’re utilizing the lowest-level functions of a high-performance machine.
What Can I make using this?
When I was in college at Berkeley in 1996, it used to take hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to do something as simple as building a website. Today it can be done in a matter of minutes.
We have more access to tools, resources and distribution channels than we have at any time in history. But often we’ve chosen to use them in pointless ways.
We’ve chosen vanity metrics over value and attention over connection. As Peter Thiel famously said, “we were hoping for flying cars, and instead we got 140 characters.”
Anytime I discover something new on the internet, the first question I ask myself is “what can I make using this?
Another question to consider is something that Julien Smith said to me in an interview.
What does this make possible now that wasn’t before?
After the iPhone came out, the answer for Julien was “I can open electronic locks and thanks to GPS I can access location data.” The result was Breather.
Consumption vs. Creation
Part of what’s led to underutilization of our tools is a lack of balance between consumption and creation. If we consumed endlessness amounts of food, eventually we’d be fat and unable to move. But we don’t view information consumption in the same way, even though excessive consumption inhibits your creativity, and turns you into the cognitive equivalent of a fat slob or an athlete who smokes. As my friend Matt Monroe said to me “social media is basically the junk food of digital content.” You can consume tons of it in small amounts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.
Take a look at the balance between consumption and creation. What’s the ratio? When you consume more than you create you, you waste your cognitive bandwidth. Every email you open, link you click on, and picture you check out on Instagram is a decision that depletes your willpower until you have no juice left for creation. On the other hand, if creating something is your essential priority every day, you find more balance. The simple advice you get about losing weight is to eat less and exercise more. If you want to be more prolific, productive, and creative, consume less and create more.
When we use the internet as nothing more than a tool to update our status, quantify our humanity, mindlessly consume, and deliberately curate, edit and display shrink wrapped and sugar-coated versions of who we are, we’ve wasted it’s potential.
And as Robert Deniro said to his son in the movie A Bronx Tale “The saddest thing life is wasted potential.” Do you know how to use the internet or are you just wasting its potential?
Want to Consume Less and Create More?
You might enjoy my new book An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake. You can download a free chapter here.