When you start writing an article, what is the first thing you do?
Several years before, the first thing I would have done would have been to settle down in a nice comfortable chair with a blank sheet of paper, a good pen and armed, probably, with a nice cup of coffee. I would then jot down my train of thought, along with the main points of argument and counterargument. I would glance into space every now and then, and think. Then I would arm myself with a list of topics I would want to research deeper and then head to the local library to hopefully get a few books on the topic. At least this is how I remember preparing for my high school essays.
But now, just as I was considering writing my blog post, the first thing I did was Google the words “œcreativity and modern technology”. With not many hits on what I wanted to write, I tried permutations of the topic and spent a good ten minutes figuring out what has been written on the topic by those before me. Admittedly, a blog post does not have the same bearing on my life as a bad grade in a school essay would have had nor do I have the luxury of time to spend as much time on one post but somehow, I would like to believe that all those years of school education had some impact on the way I think and write.
Technology has affected the way we create content. I remember the first time I wrote an html page, I had bought a tome of a book on HTML and familiarized myself with most of the commands before writing <html>on a blank txt file. Yet, now if I were to write a WordPress template, even though I don’t know CSS and I barely remember HTML, I wouldn’t consider reading up. I would start with an old template and work by trial and error, till I am happy with what I see.
So what has been the impact of modern technology on the way we create content? Have the changes been for better or for worse? And how can we maximize what is good about the new change while keeping the less desirable aspects to a minimum?
Technology has made it easier to have access to a wide range of resources. With a click of a mouse, we can have access to whole body of work on almost any topic. It has also made the process of content creation less costly, and easier to be achieved through trial and error, which means that I can start without thinking something through. I could dump a whole lot of ideas onto a page faster with a keyboard than I could with a pen. And it is easier to rearrange and sort them out with small mouse-clicks rather than erasing on paper. And given that we are able to be more efficient, and have access to so many resources, expectations people have from us have also increased. In general, higher quality is expected in shorter time. The inevitable march of increased productivity leading to the eventual progress of mankind.
The obvious benefit of all this is that we are indeed a lot more efficient. I can have a well-researched piece ready in about a tenth of the time it would have taken someone of my capacity ten years ago to produce the same article. We don’t re-invent the wheel — before we even start, we can look up whether someone else has written the same article. Throughout history, we find people who have come up with similar results within short time intervals of each other. They obviously had no idea what the other was doing. Modern technology has helped to make the process more transparent. And we could even argue that, as a collective, we make more progress, since each one picks off where the other has left off.
Yet is it all good? Doesn’t the higher productivity come at the cost of less creativity? When there are so many external ideas crowding our mind, are we less inclined to come up with our own? Are we unknowingly and unwittingly pushed towards a path that others have chosen to tread before us?
This morning, as I was sipping my special Sunday coffee and watching the fiery Dutch winds nearly uprooting the trees behind my apartment, my mind wandered to thoughts about the freedom of wind and then, freedom of humans and eventually, how the concept of freedom is just an illusion. I mused that all societies enjoy freedom to varying degrees; none is absolute enough to say we are free and by that token, not free enough to call another “non-free”. By the end of my coffee, I had come to the conclusion that freedom, and here I mean, individual freedom, to have any real meaning, should be defined in the context of an individual. I, as an individual, would hold certain things more important than someone who lives in another country or society and what freedom means to me is very different from what it means to anyone else. That means not just that there is no such thing as absolute freedom, there can also be no universally acceptable definition of degrees of freedom.
Voila! I satisfactorily sipped the last drop of my coffee thinking that I had a good concept for a blog post. And before I started, I thought I would just google some of these concepts and see if I would come up with something. I came up with quite a few academic discourses on the topic, and while I found them interesting, I was also overwhelmed. So much so that I decided the topic was well beyond my capabilities to reasonably write.
Despite Srijith’s encouragement that I possibly had more personal experience living in societies that could easily qualify for extreme ends of a freedom spectrum than most authors of such articles, I couldn’t be persuaded to continue my logical reasoning suitably enough to reach a good conclusion.
A perfect example of an idea that was nipped before it was even born, because of an overwhelming overload of information and because of being influenced by others’ thoughts, before I had a chance to distill my own. I genuinely believe that if I had actually started from a clean slate, and put my thoughts on paper before plunging head on into a sea of Google search results, I might be posting on a different topic today. And I even believe that even if I try again later, my mind has already been tainted by othersâ€™ ideas of freedom that it would be with a lot of reluctance that I will reconsider my own notions. However strange and out-of-this-world they might have been, they deserved a logical reasoning before being trashed.
In some ways, technology does hinder creativity and original thought. And the only way to counter it is to balance out what new technology has to offer with what the old school has taught us — nothing beats the power of human thought. No amount of search, synthesis and rehash has the ability to create new content. In the end, you need to use your brain. I, for one, hope that the next time I start writing, I would settle down in a nice comfortable chair with a blank sheet of paper, a good pen, and armed with a nice cup of coffee, jot down my train of thought, uninterrupted.