End of Creativity, the Rise of Social

In the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly, with the theme being 14 3/4 Biggest Ideas of the Year, Walter Kirn argues thanks to social media, boredom is close to extinction. Not only that,

But what else has been lost? Creativity, just maybe. Because when one thinks about the matter—though we really have no reason to think about the matter, or to think about anything since boredom disappeared—the keypad and the touch screen now do the work that used to be the business of the daydream. Remember daydreams? No, of course you don’t.

Kirn certainly makes some provoking thoughts here.  Yet, the tension between creativity and the rise of technology has always been at the forefront even since the days of the Gutenberg Press.   What I think we need to put in perspective are three crucial ideas in this discussion:

1.  Time – A Nielson survey revealed that 40% of online time is spent on just three activities — social networking, playing games and e-mailing — leaving a whole lot of other sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie. Americans today are spending nearly a quarter of their online time posting comments, pictures and video on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.   This doesn’t tell us the entire picture.  The television pie has been taken on by the social web.  Instead of watching series re-runs, audiences are watching 2-3 minute Youtube clips, shared Twitter links, and online music (downloading).  From the living room to the laptop, entertainment has become portable and mobile.   Is this a good thing?  That’s hard to say, considering experts have been battling this debate since the advent of radio and television.   What we can discern for sure is that although the medium might have changed, the content (education and entertainment) has not.

2.  Creativity – It would be premature to conclude that the artistic and scientific geniuses of the next generation are hindered by the Web.  On a digital level, mashups have allowed many to reuse and remix works of art, of content, and even data for purposes that usually are not intended or even imagined by the original creators. Steven Johnson has argued that the web has actually had the effect of “cognitive calisthenics.”  Despite every generation’s worry about technology —  the printing press, the telegraph, and the radio — the fact is that each generation became more efficient — if not intelligent —and being able to handle ever-more complex economic, social and knowledge practices.   As we really can’t measure individual ‘creativity’ quantitatively, what we can discern is that from the arts and sciences we’ve done quite well for ourselves.

3. Socializing- If social media has anything to do with it, the World Cup was all about socializing the experience of sports.  On Twitter, for instance, World Cup helped set a  a new Tweet record, when on June 24th during the Japan vs. Denmark match, 3,282 Tweets flew across the stream every second, beating the previous record by almost 200.  Although research has shown that teens spend much of their online, this online conversation has become a “third space” where youths congregate socially on the web on Facebook, MMOG’s, and texting.  Far from a isolation, the social web has extended and enriched the social process conversation, actually helping sustain many groups and building niche communities.   Technology provides access to communication — regardless if it’s 18th century letter writing or 21st century texting.

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3 Responses to End of Creativity, the Rise of Social

  1. tania says:

    Right on, Allan! Great points raised, esp the pattern of fear with each new bit of media that we’re becoming more spoon-fed and ‘dumber’. I think the worry is more in the attempts (esp by US corporations) to curb or stifle creativity through prohibitively strict new copyright laws and channelling access via deals like the one recently reported between Google and Verizon.

  2. tania says:

    After I left the comment above, I remembered a facsinating article that I came across early in my studies at SLAIS. It’s called “Transliteracy: Crossing Divides” from First Monday (http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2060/1908) and it really helped to shape my vision of what a librarian could be, and what shifts we need to make in our approach to our “traditional” professional spheres of influence.

    Upon a quick re-read, I found this great quote pertaining to the apprehension expressed by Kirn:

    The philosopher Bernard Stiegler suggests that past technologies have always involved a change in our phenomenological experience of the world. Transliteracy engages with new innovations in participatory media even as it recognizes that part of what such media enables is a recovery of an older plurality of literacies with possibly ancient provenances.

    The idea that we could be recapturing a lost creativity/communication skill is not only a positive approach to this topic but a nice contrast to the Progressivist/Regressivist dichotomy that permeates much of the discussion of change in our society.

  3. Pingback: Fear Factor « Social Media Research Team (SMeRT):

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