Constraints inspire creativity. Why hasn’t the Internet gotten the memo?

[Illustration by Álvaro Domínguez]

You cannot reach the end of the Internet. I have tried, but there’s always one more photo worth viewing that inspires awe or rage. That endless stream of consumable media is all being created by . . . us. Nearly free storage and the vast simplification of publishing and sharing tools mean each of us can ramble on and on with no practical technical limit to our creations. We are all “creatives” now, and we’re flooding the system.


When scarcity itself becomes precious, could it be that it becomes more valuable? Consider Snapchat ($2 billion valuation), which allows us to send images and video that expire after a few seconds. Even news organizations are using the service, not just teens. Twitter ($30 billion market cap) limits us to 140 characters, though you can get around it with everything you can embed in tweets. Twitter’s video app, Vine, offers only six seconds in which to tell a looping story.

For creativity to flourish, we need to embrace constraints. And, lucky you, I have ideas:

Forgetter: If you haven’t engaged with someone over time on this social network, you start to see less and less of each other until the connection is severed, just the way it should be for people with whom you happened to attend grade school.

Holla: A text-messaging service in which every character is converted into all caps. An in-app upgrade offers a conversion to the Wingdings font. Both modes force you to slow down your interaction as you wonder, Why is my friend yelling at me? or, What is my friend even saying?

RG Minus B: A photo-sharing service that automatically removes the color blue, offering a simpler and less stressful visual experience.

Opposable Thumb: It’s like Twitter, but you have to input text with the opposite hand from the one you write with. The software will know if you’re cheating and won’t post if you do. Forcing us to use the opposite hand leads to a reduction in the length and number of posts and forces real thought before publishing. Also: friends asking, What is my friend even saying?


Crammer: An online social network that operates only from noon to 12:17 every Friday. Catch up on your messages. Add photos. Comment on your friends’ activities–all within 17 minutes. Motto: Give us 17 minutes, we’ll give you the social world. Didn’t get to it all? There’s always next week.

Normalizer: A service that takes note of the massive influx of connection requests due to meeting folks at events, and knows better than you that most of these people aren’t real connections; they are mere contacts. After one month, Normalizer mutes 70% of the influx.

Bouncer: The social network run like a fire marshal at a hot nightclub. There’s a strict one-in, one-out rule for new members of your digital besties group.

Momentary Friend: Lets you add a person to your network for 24 hours before quietly auto-deleting him or her. No more awkward, time-wasting “Why didn’t you approve my friend request?” moments.

True Friend: Once a year, you’re quizzed on facts about the relationships you have online. Fail to answer enough questions correctly and you’re automatically unfriended.

There is no limit to ideas that embrace scarcity online. Except that this column is capped at 600 words.