The dangers of navel-gazing

POSTED IN: My DTL blog: Chris' blog

I've just read Thomas Frank's brilliant piece, TED talks are lying to you.  

As I read his argument, there's a tremendous disconnect between the real world and the world described in books and talks about creativity.  In the real world of recent years, economic growth has been slowing, unemployment has been high, and the internet hasn't proved to be the utopia it was predicted to be.  Yet in the "creativity promoting sector", everything has been roses:

There were TED talks on how to be a creative person. There were “Innovation Jams” at which IBM employees brainstormed collectively over a global hookup, and “Thinking Out of the Box” desktop sculptures for sale at Sam’s Club. There were creativity consultants you could hire, and cities that had spent billions reworking neighborhoods into arts-friendly districts where rule-bending whimsicality was a thing to be celebrated. If you listened to certain people, creativity was the story of our time, from the halls of MIT to the incubators of Silicon Valley.

His disquieting explanation for this disconnect?  The literature of creativity isn't actually about the real world at all.  Instead, it's serves as self-justification for the its professional-managerial audience. As he puts it, this literature tells

... the story of brilliant people, often in the arts or humanities, who are studied by other brilliant people, often in the sciences, finance, or marketing. The readership is made up of us — members of the professional-managerial class — each of whom harbors a powerful suspicion that he or she is pretty brilliant as well. What your correspondent realized, relaxing there in his tub one day, was that the real subject of this literature was the professional-managerial audience itself, whose members hear clear, sweet reason when they listen to NPR and think they’re in the presence of something profound when they watch some billionaire give a TED talk. And what this complacent literature purrs into their ears is that creativity is their property, their competitive advantage, their class virtue. Creativity is what they bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world.

the full piece is well worth a read: http://www.salon.com/2013/10/13/ted_talks_are_lying_to_you/

My initial take from reading Frank's article?  Any project that wants really to promote creativity needs to each outside what he describes as 'the professional-managerial class.'  It needs to get slapped in the face by the world most people actually live in.  I'm fundamentally an optimist, and I do believe that computers and technology can enable creativity and learning.  But Frank powerfully reminds me of the dangers of complacency and self-justifying banality.

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About the Author

Chris Tennant

Chris Tennant

I co-founded Dream to Learn in 2013. I love the outdoors, growing and building things, and the challenge and beauty of writing computer code. I live in Eugene, Oregon with my wife Giuditta, my two kids Joshua and Rebecca, and our cats Sprinkie and Hugino.

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Created: June 28, 2014


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