Of course, creativity often flourishes on digital platforms in very unique formats. Vine’s six-second videos are perhaps the most famous form of creativity within the creative limits. In recent years, rapid technical scanning and endless experimentation by TikTok’s creators has shown that extraordinary things can be created with a relatively narrow set of features. And as for writing, maybe brevity really is key: Some studies show that we were all much better off on Twitter in the 140-character days.
But the limits on the Web today aren’t just about what our tools encourage us to do on a technical level—they’re also about its nature. as a, in general, to use the platform. “When I was a teenager, the limitations of the old-school Internet were the devices,” says DeVito. Can you create a hit viral video in 1996? No, we didn’t have the technology and infrastructure to broadcast that video. For a one-minute video, you’d spend two days uploading it, and no one would connect to download it. The systems did not have the capacity to purchase such statements.
But today, she explains, technical limitations are mixed with limitations around things like moderation and audience. If you post something, will the forum allow it to stay? And if it does, does the content open it up to harassment for other users? She gives the example of trans creators, whose art shows themselves or their friends are often the target of both forum moderator tools and harassment from other users. “It starts to feel like a lot of pressure,” she says. “Because you have all these tools to build things and you have a system that says, ‘Your expression is not acceptable here.’ That’s not necessarily what they’re trying to say, but that’s what it always feels like.”
Online content creation today is inextricably linked to these social components. DeVito talks about trans creators locking accounts or retreating to private digital spaces to share their work in a safe environment, echoing behavior seen in many communities on the web in recent years, as users move from large free-for-all platforms like Tumblr. And Twitter for something like Discord is closed, or even abandons the online world entirely. For DeVito, the question of whether today’s Internet users know what to do with wide-open spaces seems beside the point: “I think if Gen Z needs to go back to old-school devices, they’ll look into it.” She says less than a day and improve on them. “They’re smart,” but existing spaces, she explains, are familiar sizes: seamless but clearly defined, with users sharing how to navigate them carefully. “In that case, it’s not that we don’t know how to create,” she says. “Maybe we don’t know how to protect ourselves.”
The current time It feels like an inflection point for digital platforms on the web – beyond Twitter’s woes, there’s a sense that people feel boxed in, not sure what the best places to create and communicate look like. Looking at the conversations on any Twitter platform, it’s easy to see competing—and sometimes outright conflicting—wishes and needs. Compare, for example, the smaller, more controlled conversations of decentralized sites with creators who have built careers on sites driven by height and engagement. The technicalities of joining a Mastodon prototype are an insurmountable obstacle for some – and a central draw for others. Content policies on other targeted Twitter alternatives may restrict hate speech but may penalize people who speak openly about gender and sexuality. No platform will solve everyone’s problems – but right now our platforms seem to solve no one’s problems.