It’s my great pleasure to welcome Chicago-based author, screenwriter, endurance athlete, and forensic scientist(!), Greg Hickey. Greg has some interesting observations on how creativity can sometimes lead to its own undoing. Greg is the author of Our Dried Voices, a dystopian fiction novel about what happens when humans no longer need to think and create in order to sustain their lives, and a Finalist for Foreword Reviews‘ 2014 INDIEFAB Science Fiction Book of the Year Award. You can read samples of Our Dried Voices and the rest of his written work on his website http://www.greghickeywrites.com. Thanks Greg!
Humanity is moving toward a paradoxical state where our efforts for creative production and problem-solving eventually lead to an environment in which those efforts can be easily neglected. “Creativity is bound up in our ability to find new ways around old problems,” said psychologist Martin Seligman, and throughout human history, creativity has aimed to advance the goals of universal progress and the edification of human civilization, most often by responding to difficulties and challenges faced by humankind. As a species, we have built, cultivated, doctored, analogized and depicted in order to counteract natural elements, hunger, pain, disease and conflict. Even art is typically a response to a specific social condition, an urge to experiment with new materials or a struggle with a particular idea.
Yet we rarely stop to consider our ultimate end for all this instrumental creation. Imagine we one day discover a cure for HIV/AIDS that is completely effective, works rapidly, and can be manufactured at such low cost that we can quickly distribute it to every corner of the globe. That day may not be as far-off as it appears. AIDS, which has contributed to 39 million deaths since the start of the pandemic in the 1980s[i], has been far less devastating than the smallpox virus, which killed between 300 and 500 million people in the 20th century alone[ii]. Yet smallpox was eradicated in 1979, giving us hope for an AIDS cure in the near future. And if we do ever eradicate AIDS, the world’s top virologists may wake from the champagne-soaked stupor of the previous night’s wholly deserved bacchanalia of triumph and relief to find themselves out of a job.
On the surface, the end goal of a painless, challenge-free life might seem ideal. But what would that life really look like?
Consider how you’d spend your time if you got snowed in from work or school.
You’d have the perfect opportunity to build a snowman, write some poetry, practice yoga on your living room floor or learn to cook a new meal. Or, as I suspect many of us might do, you could spend a few extra hours in bed, then recline in your remote-controlled La-Z-Boy and have lunch delivered to your door while you stream reality TV.
It’s no secret our lives have become increasingly intertwined with a host of technologies that eliminate inconveniences and automate mundane tasks. As a result, we are now healthier and safer and live longer than ever before. And thanks to technology, many of us never need worry about parallel parking, orienting oneself in a new city or preparing a meal from scratch. However, an overdependence on such technological systems allows humans the luxury of not developing the skills we would need to employ should those systems ever fail. In terms of this so-called automation paradox, creativity is a double-edged sword. The humans who developed these technologies did so with imagination and skill, and
at its best, technology frees us up to make better use of our creative capacities. Yet it also allows us to neglect those capacities and turn intellectual and skill-based activities over to automation, making us more comfortable and complacent and less creatively motivated.
It was a very long Monday this week. I’d been out of town for four days and had come home to a mess of work and household chores. By the time I had supper in the oven and the kids practicing their instruments, I was ready to either a) go to bed, b) get drunk, c) collapse where I was or, d) get drunk. Then I remembered I had some texts I needed to send. Sigh. The idea of coordinating my stubby thumbs with my “smart”phone was exhausting (no, my name is not Chaos Rink Jones). But then I remembered the handy voice dictation feature. Just push the microphone icon and start talking.
I prattled on, composing my thoughts while trying to remember to say “comma” and “period.” After a while I paused to see how my techretary had done. The results were spectacular. If spectacular means not even remotely close. Evidently, my hand had been over the microphone.
I was quickly getting annoyed but as I continued to read the phone’s version of what I’d said, I began laughing. This was fantastic. It was like a whole new language had been invented! Some some sentences were so comprehensively mangled I couldn’t tell what they were supposed to say. “You drunk the help of my long gone stone they have a min interval on a police vehicle thinking of us.”
Another sentence read “Lead skating listen to him so then be on a date for the bold bold for the outlets what is going to be for that is good please put it in a can.”
I most certainly will put it in a can.
I might even put it on a t-shirt.
I joined the 21st Century a few months ago and bought a smart phone. No it wasn’t peer pressure, or my Bejeweled Blitz addiction, or even a yearning to snap photos of my every meal (guess what THIS will look like in 24 hours?). I bought the phone so I could organize my life. With two hyperactive kids and a wife just starting a PhD program, I realized that the time I need to write, work, attend literary functions, hang out with my cronies, and be a somewhat functioning husband and father was about to be seriously curtailed. Coordinating schedules would be essential.
And for the first little while, the phone was pretty cool. I could access my calendars, check the Arsenal scores, the weather, the time in Vladivostok and, best of all, text the important people in my life. It was cool, it was fun, it was liberating. But then, somehow, it became annoying. Incredibly annoying.
I’ve known for ages that I am a natural introvert – as opposed to those sad posers who just want people to think they spend their waking hours brooding over life’s mysteries when in fact they’re simply pondering Jack Harkness’s bizarrely perfect teeth… Er, what was I on about? oh right. Introversion. I like space and quiet and people who tell me straight up what they’re thinking.
None of those things are compatible with texting.