Is the internet a creativity killer?

Creative solutions require knowledge, talent, time and most importantly, attention. The prolific output from exceptional talents like Mozart to Picasso would have been considerably diminished were it not for their ability to focus on a given problem for long periods of time.

In the modern world that continually tries to hijack our attention, sabotaging our ability to create, would they have been so productive? Would our hyperconnected and always-on culture be too much of a distraction for even Picasso?

Evolution has programmed our brains to be rewarded when we learn. It was essential for our survival. Learn quickly how to swim or drown, learn to be a better hunter or starve. Learning was essential to our ongoing survival and we were justly rewarded with a dopamine triggered positive response, a pleasure hit to the brain. However now we have boats and supermarkets, things that make survival substantially less risky. But we are still preprogrammed to get that dopamine hit every time we learn something.

This is where the internet makes things a little tricky. In many ways you could say it has become the ultimate drug pusher. Get a free hit every time you connect. Don’t worry about the time and dedication it takes to learn something methodically, YouTube can get you a hit in seconds. Happy days. This addictive pattern ultimately competes against time consuming creative endeavors, where the rewards are bigger but take a lot longer to achieve. There is also research that suggests that this continuous frantic online activity has affected our deeper thinking abilities, keeping us in a constant state of twitchy anxiety, like many other addictions. Internet bad.

It’s a double-edged sword, however, as learning is an essential prerequisite for creative problem solving. The more knowledge we possess the richer and broader our creative vocabulary. They are the raw ingredients of our creativity that when combined in unique ways form new ideas. There’s no better way to access huge amounts of information quickly than through the Internet. Google, YouTube, Twitter, the worlds combined knowledge is at our fingertips. There’s never been anything like it and its awesome. Internet good.

Too much of any good thing can be bad, so moderation is key. It’s a challenging time when technological development is outpacing our capacity to adapt to it, hypnotising us in the process. So our ability to focus is becoming increasingly compromised. Making our ‘attention’ in this ideas economy the most valuable currency we possess. The question is: do we focus more of our attention on spending time consuming or spending time creating?

Perhaps Einstein had the best answer when he said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ But I wonder if even he could resist the lure of YouTube.


Nitin Mistry
BY Nitin Mistry ON 6 August 2013
Nitin Mistry is creative director at Orchard.