Last night @todd and @alegria and I stayed up late talking about Ello, and why what’s going on here is so different than anything else happening on the Internet.
When I was 18 I went to Disneyland for the first time. This was when Disneyland was still mostly Walt Disney stuff (without Star Wars and other themed rides like Star Wars that they’ve added since then).
If you’ve ever been there, you’ll remember that the first thing you do is walk down “Main Street USA,” which is a model of a idealized American small town (complete with a drug store, hardware store, and a bank clock), but built at 3/4 scale. Because the buildings are all a little too small, you feel big, and this creates the sensation that even if you’ve never been to Disneyland before, you’re returning home for the first time.
I had some friends who dropped acid and went to Disneyland a few years later, and they reported that until they were back outside the gates they didn’t feel like they were high at all. Once inside there was no reference point to compare their state of mind to, to see if they were hallucinating or not.
As I got more and more into art and design in my 20’s, I became fascinated by this idea — that by working hard to consider every aspect of something when it is created, we can make an alternative reality that completely changes how we perceive the world.
When I designed my first Kidrobot store, the thing I kept saying to the architects was that the experience of being inside had to be completely transforming. We put the wallpaper on the ceiling, and lined the walls with toys, some of which were taller than we were. Perspective twisted (and transformed) when people walked through the front door.
We did our job so well that in the early days (before Kidrobot became a famous brand) people would just freak out. “What the hell is this place?” is what we’d here over and over.
Some people did immediately fall in love. But in the beginning many people would enter the front door, look around, and literally run out.
Or they’d hang around, curious and nervous, and ask us, “What are these toys from?”. We’d say, “They aren’t from anything” . When we couldn’t tell them what TV show or movie they were taken from, some people’s eyes would light up and they’d smile — and some would get upset and even angry. Over time people’s minds opened. Kidrobot thrived.
This past week a tech reporter published a hatchet job review of Ello. I generally ignore all press (good and bad) — we’ve had something like 1000 articles written on us since we launched, mostly positive, but it doesn’t serve anything to get stuck on one piece or another.
But what stood out about this article was how much hate was in it — and how much fear. It was as if the reporter had visited Ello once, couldn’t handle it, and just had to write a hate piece to deal with his own conflicting emotions.
What @todd and I concluded is that Ello (like Disneyland, Kidrobot, and a lot of other innovative stuff) is so new that we’re creating a completely alternative reality.
When you log on to Ello, you enter a world that’s clean, simple, beautiful, full of amazing creative work by all kinds of interesting people — and overwhelmingly positive (which is kind of remarkable in and of itself when you consider that there are millions of people using the network).
We think the reporter just couldn’t deal with it. Here is a guy who grew up using (and working for) Facebook. His entire reality is based on what Facebook is, and the only way he could express himself was by comparing Ello to Facebook. It must be a horrible way to live, sort of like a drunk who is dying of liver damage but still defends his right to drink, Facebook is his whole world. When he saw that Ello is completely different, animal survival instincts kicked in.
Not to digress again — but when Pop Art emerged in the mid-1960’s, art critics that had built their entire careers promoting abstract expressionism tried to tear Pop down — calling it ugly, cynical, trash — and really not art at all. But history left them behind. Last year 30% of worldwide art sales, by dollar value, were pop-art pieces by Andy Warhol. Which just proves that in the art world, like social networking, it’s probably time for something new.
The wonderful things about human beings, and the reason I have so much faith in people (even in the face of all the horrible things that happen in the world every day) is that invariably, people change and adapt when something better does arise.
In any case:
The point I’m trying to make is that as we create new things (like Ello), some people who can’t adapt, or are uncomfortable doing so are going to be afraid. From their perspective (which is based in comfort and safety), survival is at stake. They revert to animal instincts — fight or flight.
We need to treat these people gently, because they’re essentially scared. They need invitations and guidance (hey, nobody is going to hurt you over here!), understanding, and love.
Einstein once said, “you can never solve a problem from within the context in which it was created.”
Which is another way of saying that at Ello, we’re not trying to change the status quo. We’re creating a new one.
A tip of my hat (and deep gratitude) to all of the creative, courageous, wonderful people who make up the Ello community. That’s you.