In some ways, he’s right.
The Internet has laid waste to newspapers and threatens traditional publishing in all forms. It sucked the money out of the music industry. It’s killing off traditional bookstores–even the superstores that killed off the small independents.
New technology has opened up forms of expression to people who had been blocked by gatekeepers, but at the same time threatens to drag down the quality of that expression overall, because of the lack of those same gatekeepers. (If you saw some of the press releases I receive for self-published books, you would understand what I mean.) News operations struggle with the ever-increasing speed of the news cycle, trying to balance getting news out fast and getting it right.
What I wonder now is what the speed of technology is doing to creativity. And because we are taught to “write what you know,” I will write about writing. Specifically blogging.
I started my personal blog after several years as a freelance writer. Freelancing entails pleasing many masters—every publication has different criteria and every editor has different tastes. A perfect job is when the writer’s style, the publication, and the editor’s tastes all line up. I’ve had a few of those, o joy or rapture, then lost them as the world turns. The rest of the time I was either 1) struggling to find work or 2) writing to satisfy someone else’s taste rather than my own. Which is fine, that’s the road to becoming a professional. But after a few years, I lost track of my own writing voice and the joy of writing. I lost myself.
I started blogging to find all that again.
I posted every weekday for about three years, writing only about what pleased me in a way that pleased me. The exercise was successful in that I regained both voice and joy. The demands of posting each day—and not taking all day about it, since I still had to earn money—helped unclench me as a writer. Writing fast and not belaboring it was freeing. Until I hit the wall. Slam. Suddenly, I couldn’t write another word on that blog.
But now the Internet is eclipsing traditional periodicals and I’m spending even more time blogging, for this site and others. And I’m starting to wonder if the speed necessary to keep up in the new world of communications is a liability for creativity.
I find myself hitting a wall again and again in trying to balance speed and quality. Keeping up a brisk pace in creativity leaves little time for allowing ideas to gestate and mature, and even less time to polish. And as media changes, speed becomes increasingly important. In addition, as changing media changes pay rates for writers and other creatives, we have to produce more and more in order to get by.
I’ve written about the benefits of not thinking too much before putting words to paper (or screen), and stand by that. But that’s after the idea has matured, and before revisions. The pace required for writing online means thinking, writing, and revising all occur practically simultaneously. And as much as I love my jobs (and I do), I feel myself clenching again, but for entirely different reasons than before.
I’m a big fan of Project Runway. What those talented designers manage to do in a short time is breathtaking—not just the designs, but the execution. Still, plenty of competitors have choked under the time constraints, their minds locking up as the clock ticks. Others have failed in the execution of a good design, without the time to do quality work, go back and fix mistakes, or reconsider an element that isn’t working out.
If designers worked under those kinds of constraints in the real world, celebrity red carpet events would include some pretty funky clothes. (OK, yeah, sometimes they do, but for other reasons.)
One common measure of creativity is the paper clip challenge, which has people write down as many uses as they can think of for a paper clip within a proscribed period of time. The more ideas, the more creative.
But are they good ideas? Does that matter?
Has the speed of new media made writers more creative, or is it producing a canon of half-baked ideas and good-enough writing? Does it matter?
And what of young writers (and other artists) who are forced to develop their skills at this breakneck pace? Will they develop to work better under time constraints, or will our society simply let our standards slip down a few notches to accommodate the changed world? Does it matter?
Has the Internet spoiled creativity? Enhanced it? Or is creativity just changing with the rest of the world?
While we’re on the subject…
What are you wondering?
Sometimes I sit down to my computer knowing exactly what I want to write about for Real World Research.
Sometimes I don’t have a clue.
You can help.
Are you wondering about something in your life that research into human behavior may have addressed? Or is there something in our changing world that you think would be a great topic for the lab?
I’d love to hear ideas from you for this blog.
Please consider dropping me a note describing whatever you’re wondering and I’ll see what I can do with it. It will be your good deed for the day.