Users as Co-Creators: On Tech, Art, and Meaning

Have you ever seen an interview with an artist – a writer, say – where they’re asked about the meaning of their work, and they say something like, “It is whatever you say it is?”

It can come off as elusive, flippant, or falsely innocent. But those artists have discerned an important truth about their vocation: Art cannot exist without an audience.

I don’t mean artists can’t survive financially without an audience. I mean the art itself needs a viewer, listener, or reader to take it in, digest it, and make meaning of it, in order to serve its purpose for existence. (Don’t take my word for it: Lots of hoity-toity academics have written about this.)

The same is true for technology products: Tech has no meaning beyond what its users make of it.

We’ve seen this again and again. I don’t think anyone foresaw how Twitter would end up being used. (I know I certainly didn’t.) Never mind the masses of applications that started out as one thing and evolved into something else once the user community got its hands on them. (Ahem, Flickr.)

Technologists: Your users are the audience for your art. Whatever it is you think they’re going to make of it, you’re probably mistaken. And it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is the relationship between you; the conversation you’re initiating; the fact of you sharing your gift with the world and inviting people to play with it.

In technology, as in art, we are co-creating meaning. The author can’t function without the reader.

Can you loosen your hold on your creation enough to invite your audience in?

1 Comment

  1. linewireink

    I completely agree with you… but its not as simple as putting the technology and opportunity for users to embrace the tools. There is a very important vetting process that with in some communities can be like a brick wall and in others smooth as cream cheese. I think that there needs to be technology nurtures placed or seeded to encourage communities to embrace tools and use them create the content or become co-creators in some cases. I guess what Im saying and is similar in nature to what your suggesting here is developers and idea makers can create the play grounds for people to play in but the job is not done after that there needs to be the conduit through which to draw its users so they can flourish, learn and ultimately make the space into a play ground VS a no-discript space with a sandbox and a swing set.


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