On conservatism, innovation, & consistency
+Illustration by Agata ENDO Nowicka
One of the great things about the trade of creating stuff for the web is that, perhaps more than any other business, it reflects the society we live in and different positions in that society. Even if – or especially because – it is a superfast, almost ephemeral medium that we change with light speed, there are two predominant positions always waging war with one another, although we hardly notice it anymore: Innovation and Conservatism.
I'll save that for later
The internet is a very conservative medium. This statement may strike you as odd if you consider what I just said in the paragraph above. But if there's something like an Ur-conservative (in the literal, truest sense of the word) claim, it would probably be: "If it isn't broken, why fix it?" Or even: "It might be broken, but I might still need it and I will continue to use it. Or just keep it." The internet is conservative because it is concerned with keeping things, conserving them.
Conservatism may be defined as disposition and tendency to preserve what is established, the opposition to change or making something new. We are so tempted to be digitally conservative, because computers and the web are, to some extent, designed to keep things: hard drives and externals, the cloud, Dropbox, servers, … – they all help us do exactly that. We don't need to get rid of anything anymore. There is nothing like a digital River Lethe that beckons us, with its pure and sparkling water, to drink – and forget. Don't get me wrong: in its own right, this is something great. But there is always this connotation of stagnation and outdatedness. How terrible is it when you can't let go of things that don't do anyone any good? It is the hoarding, even digital hoarding that makes us feel a burden of "too much", of things that should be forgotten. Because there is a physical and psychological limit to capacity, maybe not digitally, but personally. Computers and the internet are still about the people that use them.
Screw this, I'll make a new one
The innovator holds against the conservator: "Even if it worked perfectly – which it possibly cannot – I will make a new one anyway. A completely new one. It's gonna blow your fuckin' mind."
It's easy to be tempted to give way purely to the holy grail of innovation. It just feels right: that air of revolution, pushing the limits, making use of creativity, creating something that wasn't there before, breaking all the rules established by someone we probably wouldn't like anyway.
Innovation is profusely pouring out change. But this excessive desire for change can also easily lead to pushing the constraining limits into boundless nonsensicalness, changing things only for change's sake, making the actual change obsolete.
Or I'll just be a carpenter
Maybe we should take the conservatism that is probably at least embryonically inherent in everyone and replace it with consistency.
Think of it as something like a traditional craft. Take carpentry, or Japanese pottery. In their best form, the products created here are timeless, precisely because they have been consistently developed over time, always adapting to technological possibilities and customers' needs. What you do is: you pick something, you practice, refine, improve, polish, make it great, but you don't ignore the room for innovation. You use the benefits of variety but don't let the sheer immenseness of possibilities blind and shield you from your actual project or your general craft. In Aristotelian logic, something is consistent if it does not contain a contradiction; if all the interpretations of it are coherent, they are true. Innovation, like a piece of marquetry, can be fit perfectly into your consistent model. Let's innovate consistently, let's conserve the good things, but let's also consistently forget a little.