People are naturally curious. When presented with a question, we are inclined to seek an answer. Nowadays, technology promises an answer before we have a question.
Is there a better outcome if we pause to consider what is not being asked?
I ran across an article last month. It proclaimed that society should focus on teaching children how to be creative. In this future, technology excels at taking over many jobs but fails miserably at being creative. "Children can be taken out of school and taught creativity directly," boasts this article.
Creativity is the ability to connect bold, unrelated ideas into a form that is greater than the sum of its parts. Creativity is born from fearlessness. A fear of failure stops many people in their tracks. To develop creativity, one must have a lot of experiences with a lot of failures. One must become comfortable with failure to the point that it loses the negative label that has been haphazardly applied by society.
You cannot teach creativity directly. An individual must commit to a road of experiences lined with failures.
Creativity is not so much thinking outside of the box as it is realizing that the box is an artificial construct. It is looking for the unasked questions instead of answering the question put in front of you.
If you study an advertisement for any technology, you will realize you are being sold a solution to a problem. An answer to a question. A destination with little or no journey. This is advertising 101.
The aforementioned article was describing technologies that will improve your life: automation, AI, AR / VR (Augmented / Virtual Reality) and others. Repetitive tasks will disappear, barriers will come down, and you will be freed to pursue higher purpose.
The answer is provided without ever stating the question: don't worry about the journey, because here’s a destination. Your internal need will be fulfilled with an external product.
Technology is ultimately an expression of our desire to control our environment. We see an imperfect world and strive to improve it. There is nothing wrong with the sentiment, but we need to consider what happens when technology is no longer compatible with our basic human needs.
Thus far, we are treating technology like bubble wrap. If something is outwardly unpleasant, wrap it in technology. We are told that this will make things more comfortable. Got an app for that?
The experience with technology is often distraction masquerading as comfort. Our online persona through social media exemplifies this disguise. We are insulated from opinions we do not like. We do not have to see things that make us uncomfortable. Confirmation bias is all around. We feel safe and in control of our environment – and as we progress down this path, we will care more about our virtual world than our physical one. Unfortunately, feeling safe is not the same as being safe.
What if the question was “how can we change ourselves” instead of “how can we change our external world?” Technology does not have an answer.
Even though we are incredibly neuroplastic, humans have evolved with two major fixed skills (among others, of course) that are relevant to the technology discussion – we are storytellers, and we love to invent games where none exist.
A story is a journey. A game is a journey.
Who would watch a game if you knew up-front how it would end each time? Who would enjoy a story if the “last chapter” is at the front of the book? Our imagination is intertwined with our enjoyment of both stories and games.
Also, our imagination is exercised throughout the journey. When technology gives us an unsolicited destination, it is difficult to stop and imagine the unasked questions. Why would you? You're already at some destination. This is the pursuit of technology-for-the-sake-of-technology.
What does this have to do with creativity?
Electronic educational products are increasingly error-proof to match our expectation of a “safe environment.” By restricting the ability to make mistakes, the journey is shortened. There is no consideration that mistakes and feedback are critical for learning, creativity, and imagination. There is simply bubble-wrap. Lots and lots of bubble wrap.
The more we wrap, the less we tolerate, and so we wrap some more. We wrap until we are drowning in e-waste and unhappiness. We continue to wrap because we fail to notice that the bubble wrap itself is now suffocating us instead of providing comfort. Except that it was never really comfort.
If life is a journey, where does the compass needle point? The bubble wrap has obscured the compass.
What have we lost with technology-for-the-sake-of-technology? This is the unasked question that needs a voice.
Shift Sight is here to restore the balance.
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.