Real Life Ideas

Written by Yaron Schoen October 24, 2011

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I attended Brooklyn Beta for exactly 3 hours in total, then had to run to the hospital and help my heroic wife give birth to our beautiful baby girl. So I can't really recap the conference in a blog post... But having seen what went on behind the scenes and knowing the intent of the organizers, I know for a fact that this was a different kind of conference. It tried to help us web people focus on the world outside of our own, and help us perhaps concentrate on bigger bolder issues.

After reading Noah Stoke's brilliant article, I realized that I have been feeling the same way for a good while now. The article also reminded me that I wrote something similar a while back, but never published it in fear of being the complaining Jew of the group. Fuck that. Here it is.


Written: Aug 17th, 2011.

Wow, it really seems that the world's social fabric is changing right in front of my eyes. It seems that smaller groups in societies around the world have the ability to organize and express their opinions in ways never before possible. I attribute this heavily to the technological revolution happening around us. Information has never been this accessible or so easy to share. It has never been this easy to communicate with people located half way around the globe from where you are. This is huge. This is a revolution.

This excites me because the industry that I work in is the core tool to this technological revolution. Yup, the medium that I work in has the potential to change the world, not only to produce Nyan Cat. Every once and a while, I still need to pinch myself to remember that. How exciting! I am very much a part of a revolution! Even if I don't work at Facebook or Twitter [edit: I actually do work at Twitter now]. I'm still doing my small part, and if you work on the web, so are you.

Just think about that for a second Yaron... You have the ability to create a tool that can help overthrow a ruling tyrant. You have the ability to create a voice for people that have none. You have the ability to help produce income for those who have none. You have the ability to help solve issues within dying industries or institutions like journalism or the education systems. You have the ability to help charities raise money in quantities never before imagined. And all this can be done sitting in your parents place, in your boxer shorts, eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew.

Let's face it though, I am pretty self indulgent (well my whole generation is really), focusing pretty much on my own surroundings. When it comes to my profession it's not that different. It gets to a point where at times the amount I focus on my industry and the tools we use gets a tad overwhelming. Instead, I should be focusing on the platform as a whole and how I can create change. It's not all about the perfect pixel and the semantic code, is it? I was always told that it was about solving problems. Empowering people to do things they couldn't ever do before, right? That's what the ideal web designer should strive for, no? Empowering people. Thats what it's all about. Sure, it wouldn't hurt to do it in an aesthetically pleasing manner and to write it in perfect HTML too, but that is not the goal and it never should be. Thanks to people like Jeffery Zeldman and others, can we say that we are at a point where a nicely designed website with well written code is a given, not the goal?

Remember the 60's Yaron? That is a ridiculous question, I was born in 79'. But I was always told how that generation was so active, how they cared about what was going on and were vocal about it and how because of them, our country and world looks brighter and better than it was before their time. And imagine, they did all this without the web! They used music, art and film to spread their word and influence and even organized rallies without the help of the web. Incredible hu? Sometimes I feel that all these magical technologies we have are being waisted on the wrong generation. Imagine a generation with their passion but with our tools - the possibilities seem endless.

But alas, I lack that type of passion. Ironically, with all the crazy amount of information at my finger tips, I've become more indifferent to the world around me. Or maybe too scared to voice my opinions about things that are not consensual, because they have the potential of easily being consumed by so many people. I'm not a "rock star designer", but a nerd that's scared of confrontation. What would my 16 year old self think about that?

Sure, not every product I release has to solve the crisis in the middle east. The point is to continue creating solutions to problems even if they're small. After all, I do live in the first world and in the age of "comfortism" (yup, I made that word up), so I will probably continue to solve first world problems. Nothing really fundamentally wrong with that. People will always need to focus on the "small" ideas.

But how about this... How about I'll try to focus on bigger ideas as well. Not big ideas that will make billions, but big ideas that will help billions. Instead of designing pointless un-solicited designs that serve no purpose besides inflating egos, I'll design something real for a charity. Instead of building social networks for coffee-lovers-in-Manhattan I'll think of social networks that help empower woman in Iran. Maybe my side projects will help serve a different community beside the web. How about going to conferences that don't always focus on HTML CSS and Typography, but instead going to conferences such as TED [Edit: insert Brooklyn Beta here] etc. Opening my mind to other environments than the web that might help me think outside of the box and help me be more evolved as a designer. Because that is what I am, a designer. I solve problems to help empower people. That is really what it's all about. Ins't it?


Those few hours at Brooklyn Beta helped remind me that there are other more important things that we can focus on. That if you put a group of smart and talented people that work on the web in one room, great things can spark out of it. That our talent can actually create change in places that need it most. Thanks Cameron and Chris for helping spread this message in a fun and positive way. I hope that we all do you justice and actually do rather than talk.

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Written in New York. © 2013