Today’s practice:  If you haven’t created something lately, try creating something online.

At our all-university kick-off meeting for Emily Carr‘s spring semester, President Ron Burnett talked about the university’s work in terms of materiality; in terms of the work, thinking and process that goes into bringing actual artifacts into being.

In an art and design university, many (but by no means all) of the material artifacts are physical objects like paintings, sculptures or furniture. But materiality can be a property of the digital too.

Friends and colleagues have frequently expressed their envy that my work involves actually making something tangible: web sites, online communities and social media presences. Projects like Participedia, Eat Street and Learning, Freedom and the Web, which I’ve been privileged to contribute to at the SIM Centre, create digital artifacts you can see and use even if you can’t directly touch them. Projects like NetSquared, Tyze and Untape, which I worked on at Social Signal, turned into resources that people use every day.

We live in a world in which more and more people are service or information workers, whose productive output is often transient or intangible. In this world of impermanence, work that yields some kind of durable, visible outcome — work with some kind of materiality — provides satisfactions that are increasingly unfamiliar, and increasingly enviable.

The personal and creative use of social media, which makes it ever easier to create and share words, pictures or even entire communities, makes the experience of materiality available to people whose income may never involve creating anything more material than a memo.  Even (or especially) if your work is entirely conceptual, you can explore the joys and lessons of materiality through social media. You can create something tangible — an image gallery,  a magazine, a community of like-minded people — without ever writing a line of code.

Art and design schools exist because people, businesses and societies need both the experience and results of material production. Digital production makes that kind of materiality available to more people. If you long to create something real, try creating something virtual.