Technology and Creativity

I’m back to talking about the book Pep Talks for Writers (Germane Amazon Link!). I bet you though I’d forgotten. Well, actually, I kind of had.

Anyway, in this pep talk, well, Faulkner has some very good ideas with a side order of Kids These Days and Their Damn Tablets.

The focus is ostensibly on the power of boredom and how your mind trying to entertain itself will lead to creativity. And, yes, I agree that it can work that way. I did a lot of writing while riding the school bus or while standing at the photocopier or the fax machine.*

However, then we get an earful of how no one allows themselves to be bored anymore because we’re always tap-tap-tapping on our apps. Granted, Faulkner starts out admitting that he has a problem, but then he turns it back on the reader with:

When was the last time you experienced a moment of emptiness and allowed your mind to luxuriate in it without twitching to grab your smart phone or a remote control?**

This reads, to me, less like a confession and more like an accusation.

And, well, I’ve always been the type to keep a book on me. I specifically selected my current purse, which I’ve been using since before I got my first cell phone, because it’s exactly the right size for my wallet and a paperback book. I even took a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn and knitted while standing in line at the tax assessor’s office.

Actually, knitting is a great thing to keep my hands busy because I can do it without really paying that much attention to it. I have mulled over other creative endeavors while knitting because of this. I enjoy crocheting, but crocheting takes more attention, since I can’t always find the next stitch by feel, like I can with knitting.

But I digress. The fact is that technology has always caused shifts in thinking. I seem to remember a friend quoting some ancient Greek guy complaining about writing things down. He said that not having to memorize everything was going to make people’s brains soft and flabby or something of that nature.*** And, in fact, writing was the beginning of entirely new fields of thought and technology.

During my childhood, my teachers, who were my parents’ age and had grown up with radio, despaired because television was going to be the end of human imagination because we can *see* the action, rather than having to *imagine* it.

One thing about technology that is not germane to Faulkner’s point, but that I’ve seen over and over and am trying to kind of get in on it myself, is the lower barrier to entry in the arts thanks to technology. I have a friend who makes a pretty good living writing erotica. Her books have even been translated into other languages. And, so far as I am aware, she is still solely self-publishing.

Back when I was hoping to start a career as a writer, my mom would ask writers she met (she was a youth services librarian) how they broke into the field and the general consensus was that you first had to write short stories and get into respected publications enough times to attract the attention of an agent and then that agent would find someone to publish your book.

If you wanted to bypass that process, you’d have to go to a “vanity press” and pay them gobs of money so that they’d publish your book for you.

Nowadays it is a perfectly valid path to write a book, get a friend you trust to beta read it, and then to typeset it yourself and put it on Amazon. You can publish not just ebooks but actual physical books this way. If someone had told me that this would be possible 40 years ago, I don’t know if I’d’ve believed it.

Also, I could make a good argument that access to books, movies, television shows, etc., on our phones increases creativity. You read a book or see a movie or watch a show that you enjoy the premise of, but that you think the writer went the wrong direction with. So you sit down and write a similar story that goes the way you think it should have gone.

Just kind of spitballing here, looking for an example that is in the public domain, Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet runs away with Romeo when he gets exiled. Setting up a life in Mantua together (Friar Lawrence had, after all, married them at this point). Does Romeo need a job? Who do they meet? Do they grow together? Do they grow apart? I think one could do some interesting things with this.

*At an old job, our fax machine would do . . . something with the papers and if you didn’t keep an eye on it, the papers coming out of the document feeder would push out the ones that had come out earlier and you’d end up with a pile of disorganized pages on the floor. This did not take any actual brainpower, just moving the pages off of the feeder a few at a time so that there were never that many pages in there.

For a while we had an attorney who would sit in one of the secretaries’ offices chewing the fat all day. And that attorney had the gall to accuse me of goldbricking when I was watching the fax machine. She demanded that I go back to my desk and work while the fax fed into the machine. So after explaining why I was standing there, she basically accused me of lying and demanded that I go back to my desk. So I did. Once I heard the machine stop dumping the pages on the floor, I got up, picked up the pages from the floor, and sat at my desk putting them back in order. This attorney was not happy that I once again didn’t have my nose to the grindstone, and asked me how I was shirking now. I just told her that since the papers had dumped on the floor, now I had to put them back into order.

You could have knocked her over with a feather. She was really stunned that the fax machine actually did dump the papers on the floor and that I had actually been doing my job when I was standing at the fax machine. That woman was a total pain in my neck for the months she was there.

**Grant Faulkner. Pep Talks for Writers (Kindle Locations 535-536). Chronicle Books LLC.

***Socrates, apparently.

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