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Are Digital Tools Making Us Less Creative?

The use of digital tools might be narrowing people but I think it also has something to do with an overly global and overly sort of flattened form of sharing on the internet where people don't have a chance to build up local bubbles.

I would never say the web is destroying creativity.  I mean that’s ridiculous.  One thing I’ve said is that there is a tendency for musicians to be insufficiently skeptical of digital tools they use.  So for instance a lot of people use music production tools that are based on old standards like MIDI that tend to make music sound a certain way and basically it comes out sounding like techie dance music. It sounds like Lady Gaga music or something, which is fine. 

If you take a ten year period in the history of pop music going back to the start of recording you see this huge change of unmistakable shift in styles.  Like it was about ten years from the end of the Beatles recordings to the start of hip hop recordings or ten years from the big band era to the prominence of rock and roll or ten years from the blues to Charlie Parker.  I mean these are humongous changes, I mean like gigantic stylistic undeniable changes.  There is nothing subtle.  There is no argument.  But if you look at ten years ago to now it’s harder and people say well it’s just your in some sort of weird historical lens, you don’t realize, somebody in 20 years will find it to be just as different.  I don’t know. 

I lived through some of those other transitions and it wasn’t subtle at the time.  It was a really big deal.  I mean these new things that came along really sounded alien, but also you can perform a test, which is you can play tracks for people and ask them to date them and people really can’t distinguish the last ten years and they can distinguish ten year gaps from some earlier times.

So what’s that about?  Well it might be the use of the digital tools narrowing people as I mentioned, but I think it also has something to do with an overly global and overly sort of flattened form of sharing on the internet where people don’t have a chance to build up local bubbles. And this is a really big deal and it’s a bit of subtle idea perhaps, but the way value happens whether it’s culture or science or engineering is it’s not each individual in their brain and then this massive flat sharing, but it’s instead people building up little bubbles where they can sort of evolve their own little culture or subculture of how to do something in some isolation just so that they can control enough of the variables at once to be able to evolve gradually and learn about what they’re doing.

So I used “evolved” here because this also happens in nature.  In nature you don’t just have all the genes from all the creatures flying around.  Instead there are these species and species sort of nail down enough aspects of themselves that they can evolve incrementally and so if can’t have sort of intermediate sized bubbles you can’t have incremental evolution if everything is just all spread out in a giant mush. 

I think you tend to be sort of just cycling in place and I think that that’s kind of what has happened to culture, but that’s on a very gross overall level.  It doesn’t say that there aren’t great, wonderful, creative musicians alive today or anything like that, so it’s important not to take the statement as being about individuals.  It’s more of a gross phenomenon. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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