Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Creator or Consumer?

One of the most stinging – meaning the most truthful – critiques of the so-called Blogosphere is that the vast majority of bloggers do not create original content. They may riff off of someone else’s content – commenting on a news article, say – but the “originality” quotient of most blogs is fairly low.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams today ponders the effect modern technology is having on creativity, and poses this series of questions:
Another interesting phenomenon of the iPhone and iPad era is that we are being transformed from producers of content into consumers. With my BlackBerry, I probably created as much data as I consumed. It was easy to thumb-type long explanations, directions, and even jokes and observations. With my iPhone, I try to avoid creating any message that are over one sentence long. But I use the iPhone browser to consume information a hundred times more than I did with the BlackBerry. I wonder if this will change people over time, in some subtle way that isn't predictable. What happens when people become trained to think of information and entertainment as something they receive and not something they create?
We’ve seen, I believe, the answer to that final question in society for at least the last several hundred years. True, modern technology is putting massive amounts of information at our fingertips for instant access, but until there are 48 hours in each day, until we have four-hour work days and until we have computers or smartphones permanently wired to our eyeballs and cerebral cortexes, the amount of information flowing our way means little – we can and do still choose how much of that information to consume.

And we’re still creating scads of stuff, just like Mr. Adams did on his Blackberry.

The bloggers as non-creators argument is funny coming from newspapers, because they function a lot like blogs. Like blogs, they create original content. And, like blogs, they use content from a lot of other sources. Ever heard of the Associated Press? Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

Example: We have a lot of comic books at home. Because they’re there, our kids have them out constantly, poring over them. We also have copies of “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” at home. Cartoons all over the place. They’ve lit a fire under our oldest son. He’ll sit and read the comics for a while, but then put them aside, get out paper and pencil and draw comics of his own. For hours. For much longer than he spends reading comics. He’s producing a lot more than he consumes. It’s not terribly original right now what he produces, but for a ten-year-old kid, he does occasionally have a flash of inspiration that leaves him with an end product that is his, original.

If he were not exposed to comics – if he were not consuming them – it’s likely he would not now be a budding creator of comics.

Another example: We have many Legos in the house. Our youngest son is constantly poring over the Lego magazines that come into the house, and, as a result, is constantly asking us to find instructions for him so he can build the latest Lego gadget. We don’t always have the parts he needs. But he improvises. As he consumes information and entertainment, he creates his own versions of the Lego models he wishes to build. And he’s happy as a clam – except when nobody will help him find the parts he wants.

If he were not exposed to information and entertainment coming his way courtesy of the Lego models he doesn’t have, his desire to create would be stunted.

We’re not the robot drones Scott Adams thinks we are. The act of consuming information and entertainment can and does result in the desire to create information and entertainment of our own. Yes, that desire arrives in greater and lesser degrees in people, but the desire does come. That most of the stuff created out there does not become known – is not repeated on the radio, published in a hardcover book or on the Internet somewhere – does not negate the fact that the stuff was created and born in the consumption of other stuff. For many, the information and entertainment consumed act as catalysts for the innate desire we have to create.

The act of creation isn’t limited or stunted by the amount of stuff we consume – but in the amount of time we lend or are allowed to lend to the act of creating.

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