In the January 18, 2010 edition of Newsweek, there was a great piece entitled “Your Online Brain.” It’s well worth the read as it focuses on the different theories about the Web’s impact on how we think.
The last paragraph really caught my attention as I had just participated in a creativity session last week.
“Science historian George Dyson believes the Internet’s flood of information has altered the process of creativity: what once required ‘collecting all available fragments of information to assemble a framework of knowledge’ now requires ‘removing or ignoring unnecessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.’ Creativity by destruction rather than assembly.”
The image I got from this was of “sculpting knowledge.” As a qualitative researcher, identifying consumer insights has always been about sculpting knowledge.
What does this have to do with my brain online? Well, my brain has been overwhelmed lately. I had some downtime over the holidays and I signed up for even more newsletters and feeds. I now need to cut back. I need time to think. The Internet is causing, as Evgeny Morozov said in the same article, “the disappearance of retrospection and reminiscence.”
It’s like a swimmer’s lung capacity: a swimmer might be able to hold their breath for a long time, but they still have to come up for air. I need a breath – to sculpt, process, digest – whatever your metaphor.
So is the Web changing how I think? No, at best it’s impacting how I problem solve (as I’m able to seek out so much more information in this new way). It provides me with more to think about.
Creativity is an iterative, infinite process: from inspiration to output and back again. It’s likely we’ve always been “assembling” and “destroying.” Said another way, when we seek the “knowledge hidden within,” it’s always through the prism of our “framework of knowledge.”
What are your thoughts?