Where does creativity come from?
This has been floating in my head the past few weeks, as I read of the desire to augment humans and to remove rote task from our daily lives, leaving us free to be creative and creatively-minded. Many of the early thinkers in computer commuication technology seem to think that if we could just remove that 80% of the time we spend doing paperwork, our creativity would rapidly expand and fill that particular void created by delegating the filing of paper and basic research/fact-checking to some sort of automated, computerized task.
I find this idea troubling, not because I enjoy mindless and repetitive tasks, but because while doing those mindless and repetititve tasks I tend to have the best ideas. There is something about having to do a project on a slight autopilot that seems condusive to creative thought; how many times have you heard someone say that they had the most brilliant idea while driving, slicing onions, or taking a bath? Our brains don’t work in a linear format that allows us to simply say “I’m going to sit down and be a genius, now.” Our brains are scattered and linking objects that jump from subject to idea to dream in a series of hyperlink-style behaviours that makes the internet look like a linear Microsoft Word document in comparison.
I’m not convinced that relegating basic tasks to an automated system would increase creativity as desired by these early architects. In fact, I think that the strength of the apocryphal story of Newton and his apple comes not from it being a “true” story in that it tells what actually happened, but a “true” story in that it tells how we actually think: while sitting around daydreaming, something happened that triggered a train of thought in Newton’s head that led to his particular eureka having found it. To remove the ability to daydream while doing other tasks seems that it would also remove this ability to have random stimuli produce the necessary associations that drive our creativity.