Saturday, 12 December 2009

Technology, free time and creativity

Amstrad CPC 464
Technology - in the western world - has always been advertised as the means to make our life easier, simpler and "better". What that "better" actually means, is free for your interpretation. Often, the appealing thing for new technology is that it saves us time. And that is a cool thing. Because when you save time, then you have more time available for other stuff, you can do more things - if you need or want to, or you can have more free time...

So the first naive question pops into my mind: Do people today have more free time?

No, at least not the people I know of. In fact, if I may compare between generations, I tend to think that people work harder (and/or longer hours) now compared to what people tended to do about 20 years ago. Of course I don't have any solid data behind that statement - it is just a subjective impression.

Second naive question: Are people more creative today?

Now that is a challenging question. Consumer goods of the digital age have certainly made a number of things accessible to a large group of people. Take the digital cameras for instance; photography and filming are not the expensive, semi-elitist hobbies that used to be, not many years ago. Computers also: when I was a kid it was the 8bit age, with the early, expensive, beige "PCs" hosted only at the most "cutting-edge" offices and the more affordable, but odd, smaller personal computer devices (ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64/128, Amstrad CPC, AMIGA - a bit later on, etc.) being adopted by the nerd minority of the time. Now, computers have proven to be not only excellent companions at the work life but also a very enabling means for a number of things beyond the office life.

So are people more creative today?

Looking once more at the people I know of, I have to say, rather not. Of the 20-30 people I brought to my mind about half regularly use their digital camera in some social occasions only, but they would also do that with an old-style camera, if they had to. Of that group about 5-6 have a blog, or maintain a relative active profile on a social-network site. But, again, those people a few years ago used to keep diaries or contribute to newspapers and magazines.

So is that a problem of the people themselves?

No, that would be too pessimistic to say. I think it is a question of free time. Technology has allowed for a lot of potential to be at a "hand's reach". What one needs, it the sufficient time to interact with it and learn to channel that potential to something that, sooner or later, hopefully, we 'd call "creative".

Critics would suggest that free time and competitiveness don't go together. I disagree. Free time can lead to fresh ideas. And it is fresh ideas that will push us forward and make our lives better. Google for "personal projects" around and see what people around the world have made. Ok, some of it may look junk but there are things that stand out (if I recall correctly, google itself started as a personal project, icq also and so did numerous other things). And keep in mind that there may be much more beyond what an internet search engine can reveal...

(Photo: "My second computer", adactio / CC BY 2.0)

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