Is Google creative? Can our personal computers or mobile devices be said to create anything?
Before answering, let’s start with a basic definition. Creativity is combining units of restricted meaning (words, musical notes, brushstrokes, pixels, scraps of metal or wood, etc., etc.) into something in which another person can find a greater emerging meaning. A novel, a sculpture, a painting, a symphony.
As a word person, I think of creativity in terms of composing and editing. Bring a collection of words together. Let a new combination stimulate an idea that hasn’t been recognized before. Analyze the original collection of words according to how they represent this idea. Then refine, by substituting, deleting, or adding words to reinforce the new idea. The goal is to make the idea accessible to everyone in your reading audience.
The same process is inherent in all the arts and sciences. Collect, combine, analyze, refine, and communicate. Communication is the essential component that gives creativity value, and it is no wonder that creativity is expressed so often in our day-to-day communication. Because of our inherent human affinity for the novel and interesting, creativity is very often used to enhance communication which is primarily reporting, connecting, or storytelling.
Note that creativity is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the mind (and that’s not a new thought!). No matter what tools we use to create, our minds imagine a transformation of units into a meaningful whole and the best tools quickly allow us to make something real out of the imagined.
What is the impact of technology on creativity? Enormous, of course. All of the features of our modern technology can help with one or another of the creative activities. Web browsers, search engines, and mobile apps collect information; copiers and word processors combine; spreadsheets and CAD programs analyze; spell-checkers and simulations help to refine; and our global networks carry the communications. I’m amazed to consider how technology helps to train the minds which still ultimately control the creative processes.
I am also mindful of a caution I recently found expressed in a blog entry by Scott Adams:
“With my BlackBerry, I probably created as much data as I consumed. It was easy to thumb-type long explanations, directions, and even jokes and observations. With my iPhone, I try to avoid creating any message that are over one sentence long. But I use the iPhone browser to consume information a hundred times more than I did with the BlackBerry. I wonder if this will change people over time, in some subtle way that isn’t predictable.”
Today, just as we must be intentional about keeping our personal relationships real, we must also be intentional about applying our creativity when it is so easy to just consume the creative wonders of others.
So I wouldn’t say that Google and our sophisticated computing devices represent creativity. They are just amazing tools that our own creative minds can tap into.