Friday, October 30, 2009

Scribbling Creative Places + Spaces

this is the first time I’ve been involved in writing about an event that was being live-blogged & twittered via a Scribblelive screen. extremely interesting & distracting. reminds me of a study of GPS & its impact on our cognitive ability to navigate. we seem to be physically changing our brains with our new technologies; a study of London UK taxi drivers indicates that all the cognitive map-making necessary for cabbies actually alters their brains, making the back part of their hippocampus grow larger. and similarly, people who use GPS all the time are losing their map-making skills. (see further The Walrus, Nov/09).

surely we’re doing something similar with this constant hum of low-level multi-tasking—watching/listening to an event while making notes & comments about it. our media platforms that require us to look away at least occasionally from the person talking or performing. today, the huge projected scribble screens are distracting, like having a really chatty neighbour during an interesting speech. Sir Ken Robinson mentioned this today, “I sometimes wonder if tech doesn’t get in the way of the experience you’re trying to have at the time.” we all pondered this for a moment, then Sir Ken proposed: “Technology should be supplementing our lives not supplanting them.”

mind you, Sir Ken points out that technology, if it has always been there for you, no longer seems like technology. it’s just reality. (whereas I can actually remember a time before email, back in the dark ages when we were domesticating the tyrannosaurus rex, so the live-blogging definitely qualifies as technology for me!)

all this twitter-berry-ing is highly appropriate for the conference, because the ‘Creative Places + Spaces’ focus this year is collaboration.while Scribble produced a scattered dialogue today, all too often a 140-character series of micro-monologues, some of the Scribblelive board entries really did trigger further thoughts as the lectures went on. so conversation & collaboration can come out of the hubbub of twittering--something of a revelation to me. and most revealing, when the Scribble went dead for a brief period, i was disappointed, I felt I was missing something in the discussion & the conference.

the trick is getting tech such as Scribble to work with the cognitive diversity that today’s keynote speaker, Richard Florida, emphasized is crucial to creative discussion. “If you take people who are demographically diverse, you get cognitive diversity,“ he says, rather than taking a bunch of people who already think similarly—which just produces group thinking & isn’t getting us anywhere.

Florida’s talk was all about how complexity, creativity, and collaboration result in a resilient city. “At the very bottom of the struggle of our time is control,” says Florida. and he thinks Toronto is perfect to wage this struggle. “This is the great battle of our age, the battle between creativity and control... The world needs an example of a city that works. ...if we’re going to build creative places & spaces, we need to do it here [Toronto]. There are very few places on earth that can make this happen."

which brings me back to Sir Ken, talking this morning about our need to DISENTHRALL ourselves… if we're going to create a city that works...if we're going to even THINK about collaborating on a city that works...we need to think afresh. We need to disenthrall—it sounds like a new word, but in fact Abraham Lincoln used it. Sir Ken argues that we must disenthrall ourselves from what we take for granted. To innovate, to think creatively, we must shake off the bonds of common sense—disenthralling is crucial in this battle against control.

so can I disenthrall myself from technology while finding ways to use it? not sure. but I’m heading back to the conference tomorrow, to keep thinking about all this.

(images courtesy of Artscape's conference Flikr page, with the liveblog balcony today at the Carlu, and Richard Florida just before he hit the stage to praise Toronto & Mayor Miller)

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