Does technology actually stifle real creativity?

A question for you today. These days, over the last decade, most people have access to a computer, and increased usage, has improved computer skills on them. The quality of the software and networking via the internet, has constantly improved. Myself I have a Macbook Pro. Apple have been promoting their computers with the “creative” software that comes pre-installed. There is iTunes, but also iPhoto (manage and do some basic editing of your photos, create photo books, slideshows), iMovie (edit your video, create movies and trailers), Garageband (create, record and produce your own music e.g. “Grimes” recently release an album created with this), idvd (burn movies, slideshows to a dvd), iWeb (create websites). This all comes preinstalled, is pretty fantastic actually, and as they would have it, is the doorway to creativity. But recently I have been thinking, is all this technology having the opposite affect? Is too much actually stifling good creativity?

Bear with me here, the argument is one of two many options, not against using the technology itself. In the current issue of Rolling Stone (1154) there is an interview with Jimmy Iovine legendary music engineer, producer, label chairman (Interscope), and co-headphone maker (Beats with Dre). He worked with John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Patti Smith, U2 and many others. He refers to how many of the artists were after a particular sound, their sound, and once they had found it, it was then more about good songs, and some good singles. Springsteen in particular (on Born to Run) was a torture in finding the right sound, but once he found it, then it was all about the songs. Like him or loather him, you can still tell his sound immediately, and that is an important point, because in doing that, he had found his voice.

This was arguably more the old model of record companies. To be signed you had to be pretty good at singing, songwriting, or maybe playing an instrument. To be successful you had (mostly) to be skilled in one of those areas. Often to define their voice, artists would work hard to find their own sound or write their own songs. It might well have taken a lot of practice, a lot of playing live, a lot of hard slog. But there was often no other way. It was either take this opportunity, or do nothing. The means to do something creative were a little harder to come by than now. Iovine says of Springsteen (on page 61):

“All you hear everyday is how not cool the record industry is. That’s going to have an effect on who gets into music. All you need is a new Bruce Springsteen deciding he is going to work for Apple – or create his own. Look at the intensity and force that went into making Darkness. If Bruce ever had a f*****g excuse not to do it, maybe he would have chosen not to”

Is this actually the case? Does all the different creative technologies give you that excuse? If you want to do something creative today, edit some photos, go edit some video. Well that is being creative. So I guess the point is the quality. Going back to music, you can easy record using a computer, it might be easier to make, because you do it yourself. And I’ve definitely nothing against this. But what is does not give you back is quality control. That is something you have to receive or you have to learn. I’m a fan of music, and I can think of many recent albums that are good, a few that are great. Usually the better ones have worked with a producer (someone not only with a separate view on the sound, but an independent on the quality of the material). More often than not, the really successful ones stand out for both the artist’s sound (for someone like Adele this is her voice, which is always upfront in the mix), but also for some really good quality songs (singles). Even under the current changing model of the music business, we are still moved by something that feels good, honest and grips us in some way. But note, all the best received artists, whether mainstream or indie, have their own voice and sound. We can tell their music in a second or two. Either they earned it, fought to find it, or were just lucky enough to have the talent anyway.

The same also applies in writing although it is a bit harder to tell because you have to spend more time reading a book, than you do listen to a 3 minute single or 45 minute album. The best writers have their own style or voice. I was reading the other day in the latest Writers Digest (March / April 12, pg 57) about mastering voice. Larry Brooks states:

“Less is more. The more personality and humour and edge you are looking for, the truer this is. Attempting to imbue your writing with noticeable narrative style is always risky, because you are hoping and assuming that whoever is reading your work will be attracted to that particular style. The safest bet – one placed by a bevy of bestselling writers …who are too often and unfairly accused of not being all that good because their writing bears little or no stylistic scent – is to write cleanly and crisply”.

I can understand his point. He is referring to selling your novel. You will have an easier job of it if it is easily understandable. Your voice ought to be natural, it ought to take little effort to read. Perhaps your story and characters better be good though (for example, Elmore Leonard), otherwise you might also be a bit bland. Not that I’m suggesting there is anything wrong with taking this approach, there isn’t. I’m all for writing in a style that is appropriate. I just couldn’t help feel with this advice that there was a slight whiff of not standing out in a crowd. Surely you would want to be good enough that some element stands out as your voice? To do that, unless naturally talented, you have to earn it.

A common creative output for many writers is the blog. It is likely that you reading now may have your own blog, or be a signed up wordpress member. This is a great output as it means you can put something out for people to read and judge, in fact I did the former and you are doing the latter right now. A problem I have is that maybe I spend too much time working the blog and not enough time on my other writing projects. In the grand scheme of things, I would like to think that they will be the recognised pieces of my work. At the moment, there is more blog than other. Part of the reason for this is simply that the blog is there as an output. Otherwise I might be doing some writing practice in a notebook (which I could still do) or more importantly, well you get the idea. Yet I enjoy the blog, and I enjoy putting some things out there for people to read if they wish.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he refers to 10,000 hours being the amount of time you need to spend on something to be a master of it. Clearly this is a balance of experience and learning. He provides various examples of where this would be the case e.g. The Beatles, or Bill Gates. I could therefore argue that the blog contributes some of the time towards this magic number. It is a good forum for me to practise, experiment and publish. Will this add up to me being better on my other projects or should I simply be spending more time on them?

Perhaps the answer is there is less pressure. I use the blog to try to give a certain level of quality, that I might not expect in a notebook, but I would not expect this to be as high a quality as my other projects. But if they don’t work out, I could always just keep with the blog. Or I could go edit some videos or photos. They are both good fun and creative too. These days it is not a one shot deal. But then I don’t want to be “Jack of all trades”. If I want to be good at one, I need to concentrate on one. Get the magic hours in and the learning, and the experience. So you see, technology gives us the opportunity to be creative, but it might also stifle real creativity, by which I mean something that is that much better, is our own voice.

Is that the case? What do you think?

N.B. This posting was maybe a bit longer than I was expecting but I still think I didn’t have space to put in several points. I may expand it to a larger essay at some point in the future.

Lexicon word of the day: Perfidious.


8 comments on “Does technology actually stifle real creativity?

  1. Re length I cannot usually read posts of this length mainly because I have to address all the traffic on my blog and visit at least 100 others so if it is more than 50 lines I have to skip it. So if you have more to say your could do it in sections over several days but that is just me. I wanna read a post not a novel.

    Now on tech and creativity: I became semi computer able last several years. I do not use the machine or programs to do anything. My tools are pen, paper, ruler, scissors and glue. But being skilled enough to just have a blog I have posted 450 creative ideas in 18 months and have many more on hand. So it did allow me to post my creations and spurred creativity indirectly because it keep my mind focused to create more because there is a reason. Oooops I wrote a novel as a comment. Sorry.

  2. mrbrainsplat says:

    I don’t think the length is a big deal if it is from time to time, but I understand many blog readers only want to read short postings. For me reading, it depends what it is about, then the length doesn’t matter.

    It is interesting this idea about how we use tech isn’t it? For you it sounds like you are disciplined in how you use it, have less distractions and therefore works well as a creative output.

  3. buzzingbee5 says:

    I don’t think I entirely agree with you. I believe technology is shifting the way we express ourselves creatively rather than stifling it. It takes a great deal of stamina and ingenuity to create a truly inspiring blog and keep it running. Likewise, with regards to music in this respect, just because something is becoming easier to do, why does it diminish its worth? I acknowledge that many people around me bemoan modern music around them, looking hack to the new and fresh sounds that developed between the 50’s and 70’s.
    Yet each era has its charm and I believe music can also age well, like a good wine. Some of the bands of the 90’s are already being deemed as ‘classics’ like Oasis and others are steaming ahead still like ‘Coldplay’. Does the fact that they have the technological advantage over prior artists make them any less worthy? Or have I misunderstood you completely?
    Finally, do you consider a painting that was created with a graphics tablet and intricate software to be less commendable than, say, a watercolour done on paper?

    • mrbrainsplat says:

      Thanks for dropping by. You’ve slightly misunderstood. Actually I agree with your points, I’m not a snob in terms of how something is created, for example I love music new and old, and it is the end product that counts. The point I was trying to get at is despite all the advantages, it (technology) does not necessarily equal good creativity. Yes we have lots more opportunities to create things and perhaps too much. It’s a bit if I get stuck doing this thing, never mind, I’ll just go and do something else. Is that bad? Not necessarily, but I’m of the opinion that unless you’re a bit disciplined, and stick with the one thing you are doing, then you’ll create, but you may fall short of something really good. If you like, aside from all the good things, the technology hampers us by giving too much distraction. Or if you want to be the best, you can use all the tools at your disposal, but you still need the focus and hard work. Having all the technology is an illusion of too many fingers to the creative pie, does not always a good pie make.

      It is possible in making some edits to this post I lessened what I was trying to say. It is an interesting debates though isn’t it?

      • buzzingbee5 says:

        Haha, well put. I agree that we get distracted by technology – there’s so many new methods of expression that before we have even relatively mastered one, a new gizmo emerges. And yes, editing… as a teacher I find it hard sometimes trying to get a generation used to constantly revising their work to actually appreciate the benefits of handwriting an essay. Whilst editing may make corrections easier, I find that students rush to write things down, fully knowing that they can afford to make mistakes, and hence not fully thinking things through, crafting their language.

  4. rtd14 says:

    I think technology has changed a lot of how we do everything from writing to web marketing. It adds a different brand of creativity. I do not think it stiffles it unless an individual artist lets it. I wish I had more time to blog than two times a week, and read even more blogs. With different projects and a toddler, a challenge arises. However, I believe the blog and technology are very important tools for creative output.

    Good post! Made me think!

    • Elliot says:

      Well the technological tools certainly add a lot. My problem is I have more things to do than I have time for, so in a sense, some of that technology is getting in the way. You are right in that it is down to the individual. I do wonder if all the choices make it too easy to be distracted (perhaps providing more reason to have less drive, or quit) so in that way it stifles it.

      • rtd14 says:

        I know I become distracted with the blog, but I’ve had to become more disciplined lately so I can meet deadlines and continue to work on writing once I start my temporary job in a few weeks. It is distraction. Sometimes I just go and write by hand. It’s a nice mind vaccation. I also still read real books.

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