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Beyond Flash

At a recent Flash conference, Jonathan Harris offered some constructive criticism with regards to the Flash medium as a form of expression. He’s completely hit the nail on the head, quite literally verbalizing the thoughts that have been going through my brain in recent years as I’ve found the majority of Flash content, while mechanically well done, to be disproportionately heavy on fluff and sadly light on substance.

Jonathan points out:

New mediums tend to evolve in more or less the same way. They tend to begin with a spark, a technical innovation, usually coming from the fringe, often from the world of science. At first there are just a handful of practitioners of the new medium, experimenting with and testing it. Photography, film, and the Internet began this way.

The second stage is an awkward adolescence, defined by lots of groping. Businesses grope with how to use the new medium to make money. Hobbiests grope with how to use the new medium to have fun. Artists grope with how to use the new medium to say something about the world.

In the third stage, a number of visionaries and virtuosos emerge, who have learned the new medium so completely that it has become an extension of themselves, and they are then capable of using it to produce incredible beauty, insights, or riches. Robert Frank, Stanley Kubrick, or Steve Jobs would be good examples.

When I look at our medium, not just Flash but the broader world of online self-expression in general, it seems to me that we are still in the awkward adolescence.


Language is basically a system for expressing ideas.

There are all sorts of languages. There are obvious ones like English, Spanish, and Mandarin, and less obvious ones like dance, music, photography, film, politics, and programming.

Learning a language is important. Without a language you cannot say anything, and I believe it is important for us as humans to speak and to say something.

But languages can be dangerous too, for they can become addicting, and it can be easy to forget that learning a language is not enough.

Once you have learned a language, then comes the far more difficult and far more important moment when you have to decide what to say. And this might be the only decision that really matters.

Otherwise, you can end up like the schoolboy who spends his whole life memorizing the dictionary, occasionally forming the odd sentence, sometimes a paragraph, but never a poem or a play, not to mention a novel.

When I look at the Flash community today, I see too many of us who are stuck like that schoolboy.

And then:

I define a masterpiece as a beautiful idea, fully realized, taken as far as it can go.

In my view, there have been no masterpieces yet in the online world, my own work included. Time might prove me wrong, as masterpieces only reveal themselves with time, but this is my sense.

With a number of notable exceptions, most of the work I see coming from the Flash community is largely devoid of ideas. There is great obsession with slickness, surface, speed, technology, and language, but very little soul at the core, very little being said.

I believe that in the long run, ideas are the only things that survive.

Leaving us with questions to ask ourselves about our creative work:

Can it make someone gasp or cry?
Does it feel as special as a love letter?
Does it truly represent our time?
Will it still feel relevant in 25 years?
Does it say something that’s never been said before?
Does it compare to the masterpieces of other mediums?
Could it have gone further?


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