Consuming Creativity with Creativity

When it comes to societal advancement there is a running theme of fear and resistance by older generations; a sense that the ways they were brought up is somehow superior.  If history is any indication, this theme will only continue. What’s so interesting about its recurrence now is that the older generation fears technology will do to their children what it had done to them – create passive consumers of creativity, or what Lawrence Lessig refers to as a “read only” only culture in his TED Talk titled “Laws That Choke Creativity.”

Under this light, I suspect today’s fear comes from a lack of understanding. This generation is not consumed with creativity without any outlet for creativity, they are engaged in (re)creativity as Lessig coined it. Users take creative pieces and recreate them in their own image. Lessig champions this new read/write culture where users consume creativity and (re)create. The problem is the legal obstacles attempting to limit the growth of the read/write culture. These obstacles are forcing the read/write culture to “live life against the law.” I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t part of the appeal to the emerging culture, however. Being told not to do something has always sparked an interest that might not otherwise be there. It’s as old a theme in our culture as resistance to technology.

More than likely, the appeal of “living life against the law” only appeals to a fraction of users. As Jenkins points out in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century creating media creates a higher form of respect for other users media.  By letting users (re)create creativity they in turn have more respect for the creativity of others, just as they want their own creativity to be respected. Jenkins seems to suggest that the problem could take care of itself.

For better or worse, education is influenced by the culture we live in, at least I hope it is. As long as we’re living in a read/write culture, and what better culture to be a part of, we need to find out where we fit in as educators. While our students are consuming and creating media, they’re not always doing it critically, appropriately, legally, or safely.  Students could benefit from instructors that helped define these blurred lines, validating what students do, and helping them do it better. This can contribute to an affective learning environment where it’s clear that students are learning from teachers and teachers are learning from students.

None of this is to say it’s easy, the world wide web is infinite and omnipresent; there is so much out there to be gained and lost over and over again. We all fear the unknown; the internet can be a big and scary place. The benefits of using media, however, far outweighs the risks as Will Richardson points out in his Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms. Richardson acknowledges this tension between school (parents included) and the literacy activities students participate in outside of school, and shares some ways for working around it. Ultimately, Richardson claims that teachers need find their own balance – that’s the most important takeaway.

Teachers and parents resistance to new practices and the immersion of the read/write culture only hurts students in the long run leaving them less prepared. Richardson also points out that “communicating and collaborating with peers using instant or text messaging [social media], accounts allows them to be ‘always on’ and always connected. That is their expectation, one that has changed greatly in just the past ten years.” This expectation isn’t going away. They expect to “always be on” and they’re expected to be as well.  Some teachers try and remove distractions from their classrooms, but those distractions are still there and they’re not going away. By ignoring this expectation, I wonder if we’re only leaving them less prepared. .

Jenkins touches on this idea of expecting to be expected when he describes multi-tasking. He describes it as “the ability to scan ones environment and shift focus onto salient details on an ad hoc basis.” This idea of consuming endless media while trying to perform is rooted in the fear of the effects of technology on the upcoming generation – the so called “ADD” generation. Their attention spans are so short because they are switching tasks at such a rapid pace. That multitasking will somehow ruin the ability to concentrate and problem solve.

The need to multitask and the expectation of constant communication isn’t going anywhere. As valuable as it is to be able to really devote your concentration to one thing, we cannot dismiss the value of being able to “scan your environment and shift focus”; it is a skill they need. Students need to know how to take in information through a variety of mediums, prioritize it, and assert some control over its effect on their lives.

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2 comments on “Consuming Creativity with Creativity

  1. Your post does an excellent job of synthesizing multiple sources and showing how these sources intersect with one another. Your thoughts on how students may be left unprepared or underprepared if teachers resist incorporating new media and digital technologies into their curriculum sparked my own thinking on this. On the one hand, I agree that teachers today would do best not to completely ignore the proliferation of digital technologies that most students are familiar with, and that, as Jenkins points out, students are already educating themselves about these technologies (so educators need to figure out how to harness this energy in the classroom).

    Yet on the other hand, I also wonder if there should be a limit on the extent to which technology should play a role in the composition classroom. I agree that ultimately each teacher must find their own balance, but I think if educators are encouraged to completely digitize their classrooms, some of the advantages of traditional learning environments might be sacrificed. These include the ancient practice of learning through face-to-face conversations and connections, uninterrupted by technology. I realize this may be an unpopular view and that one could dispute this with the assertion that technology enhances our connection with one another, but I still believe there is something to be said for having a class sit in a circle, with a printed text in front of each student, and letting a conversation about the text develop organically.

    Your final point about the “ADD generation” reminds me of why I believe this; while I agree that multitasking and constantly communicating can teach students to control all of the information coming at them, I think it can also distract from a deeper exploration of the material we are teaching them. That is, I think there is a place for multitasking, for instant communication, and for technological literacy, but for me these are components of a broader curriculum that also takes into account traditional, slower, and (for me) more intimate ways of interacting with students and with texts.

  2. I was reminded of Lessig’s point, in “Laws That Choke Creativity,” that we’re teaching young people to evade the law by telling them not to use copyrighted material under any circumstances when I was re-reading a newspaper article today that I’ll be using for a unit I’m teaching on intellectual property in my First-Year Composition class–“Rise in Student Plagiarism Cases Attributed to Blurred Lines of Digital World,” from the Denver Post.

    Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, is quoted saying, in the Denver Post article, “I do worry that we’re teaching people to evade plagiarism detection rather than to cite sources and build upon other people’s ideas.” Teachers who warn students of the dangers of plagiarism and say nothing more about it are teaching students to evade and mistrust authority in the academy rather than encouraging them to use the structure of the institution to create knowledge.

    Both Lessig and Fishman point out that we’re acting like we want young people to be scofflaws. We’re treating them as untrustworthy rather than treating them as insiders-in-training (who will surely make mistakes, as all novices do). Instead of welcoming them into a tradition of knowledge creation, we tell them to avoid the third rail that is plagiarism, or copyright infringement, at all costs.

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