Why bother investing more – money, time, energy – on projects than it takes to consume them? Instead, search the collective for marginally unfamiliar mediocre creativity that will conform by meeting salable expectations. Furthermore, it’s easy to conform because the crowd is on your side when no risks are taken. This sounds tremendously uninspired – yet familiar – doesn’t it ?

It was the mid nineteenth century when Ralph Waldo Emerson lectured about creativity being part influence, part interpretation. What happens when the parts aren’t equal? What if influence devastates interpretation?

We’re getting to the answer. Likewise, around this time – mid/late 1800’s – we find the idea of a meme [understandably a concept returning to the dialogue in this century]. The meme is – more or less – a societal component; a style or concept widely deemed worthy of replication.

The 19th and 20th century memes as influencers evolved much like a childhood game of telephone. Remember? Classmates’ whispers yielded a surprising result of imitation and interpretation. This is a creative model, perhaps a thoughtless one but creative none the less.

One very key creative element is the passing of information in a way that keeps it free for interpretation. It may be as si

Ralph Waldo Emerson

mple as an analogy or an imitation of a meme. Yet, concepts and styles that jump from individual to individual, as if crossing a gap, are naturally interpreted, i.e. Emerson finds his balance, and imitation isn’t duplication.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the gap; it’s a creative gap. The individual owns that interpretive space. Influence is the whisper and senses are interpreters escorted by introspective thoughts and emotions.

Today, the internet has thrown Emerson’s balance out of whack. The creative gap is diminishing as analogy loses to duplication; imitation swaps with cloning, analog becomes digital; a gap too short, crossing it is too fast, and memes a ubiquitous. On occasion the creative gap literally shortens to Ctrl>C:Ctrl>V; no time for interpretation. Generally yet more precisely, the time of creation comes treacherously close to the duration of consumption.

As if performing on a stage, open on-line culture thrives on recognition. In real life, we tell a good joke and it becomes ours. A reasonably obscure joke has no attribution requirements, i.e. we’re the comedian. Netiquette (on-line etiquette) requires more attribution but only one or two levels back. With independent discovery, you get “finder’s credit” as though the creator is your alter ego; you’re a curator of good taste but deserved byline credit.

The Good: Crowd accelerated innovation. TED’s Chris Anderson presents a notable case in his talk back in 2010, about what the internet has done for creativity.

The Bad: An elevation of mediocrity and low expectations. Consumption is massive and fast with low interpretation and high influence that’s homogenizing creativity. [see Jaron Lanier at the bottom].

Following our move from analogy into duplication, we structure our creativity to avoid criticism and receive acclaim deserved or not. It has the effect of homogenizing outcome. The courage it takes to introduce disruptive forms comes with too much risk of ridicule. There is more equity in conformity than rebellion.

To meet the requirements of the “mob mentality” [as defined by Jaron Lanier – American computer scientist, musician, composer, visual artist, and author of  “You Are Not A Gadget”] consuming becomes more important than producing. When culture is completely open, creativity is lost.

The individual matters. The individual makes structure out of mush. Jaron Lanier calls it encapsulation: don’t publish until you’re ready. We are the definers; we have an inner life.

As proof, connectivity has created fame without talent; people who are famous for being famous. In turn, mediocrity (and the occasional garbage) lives an implausibly elevated status because mob members fear the consequence of truth; the massively naked emperor. This is a continual theme in today’s politics.

Consider Wikileaks: here we find – counter intuitively –  mob censorship of individual thought. Be very careful, I’ll steal your honest opinion, and it had better not be controversial or disagreeable because I’ll weaponize it. Is it honesty through transparency? What is the cost? Complete openness destroys individuality; individuality is creativity.

Lanier marks a strong difference between the internet and open culture. In this Jaron Lanier talks about the failure of Web2.0 with Aleks Krotoski of The Guardian. This dates back to 2010 but still holds up. Look how far we’ve come; not that far from Jaron’s vision from this short video.


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