Has the internet made us less creative?

On today’s show we will be talking to our special guest Jaron Lanier.

An American computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author. We blogged about him earlier in the week. 

In his new book ‘You are not a gadget’ he accuses ‘web 2.0 generation’ of being guilty of digital collectivism – killing creativity and innovation. But is that fair?

Have a look at his interview on Newsnight which asked ‘Is the internet stifling creativity?’

So impressed by Lanier’s wisdom this blogger says he read the book twice.

Another person comments that his work is ‘like a health-food movement for the internet generation. We should eat more broccoli.’

But not everyone is impressed with this critical view of today’s internet usage. OK-enough dept criticizes every aspect of his work and says ‘The internet is a huge success because people actually like the way it works and they get tons of value out of it, even if it’s not the value Lanier wanted’.

Blogger Emilyn strongly disagrees that we have collective approaches to the internet ‘The internet is largely individual voices, individual works, and that will not go away any time soon.’

Do you think that the internet is stopping creativity?Do you need to be somebody before you share yourself online?

27 Responses to “Has the internet made us less creative?”

  1. 1 Roberto
    February 3, 2010 at 11:50

    RE “” An American computer scientist, composer, visual artist “”

    ———- Looking at the pic that Mr. Lanier provided, well, even allowing for extreme tolerance, he’s clearly made his personal appearance into a” visual artistic statement” of some sort.

    Because of the massive societal and migration changes generated from corporate globalization and computer/internet technology, the newer generations are being brought up almost completely cut off to tens of thousands of years of shared culture that were subtly passed on to every new generation.

    This will be especially relevant in Africa and Asian peoples with newer gens might as well be a different cultural and racial grouping for all the differences.

    It doesn’t bode well for humanity’s immediate future given the most popular technology developments seem to be violent games of war and massacres intersecting with the rise of Islamic terrorism.

    It is quite disingenuous to blame young people for a world they will inherit however.

  2. 2 Ibrahim in UK
    February 3, 2010 at 12:12

    I think it’s made us lazier, not necessarily less creative.
    We immediately have access to a worldwide audience and consumer-base, we don’t need to make the awesome headline-grabbing product to get attention. Anyone with some skills and motivation can create. The big rewards still go to the ones with the bigger budgets.
    As far as “free is better”, there is instrinsic value of being part of a group and contributing towards producing something useful which people can freely enjoy. I think there needs to be a balance between wanting to create a super-product which few can enjoy, and creating a widespread attitude that average-quality is good enough for everyone.

  3. February 3, 2010 at 12:17

    Rather than dampening creativity the internet has stimulated creative minds! The internet has enabled giant leaps in imagination and especially in the creation of scientific models. Accuracy plus creativity allow the mind to take that quantum leap which has aided progress in many fields in science and technology. Used intelligently the computer is a godsend. Just think where we would be in medical research or space exploration without the internet or computers? The internet is a boon to creative research. The internet does not kill creativity. Rather it is rich fodder for thought as it enables research on work done by other great minds. Like other sophisticated tools, the Internet provides opportunities for the talented to sharpen their professional and intellectual skills.

  4. 4 osuagwu
    February 3, 2010 at 12:17

    The internet has tools for the the advancement of creativity. If you are creative like me you woulds find endless resources in the internet such as the meaning of terms that bombard you everytime ,explanation of issues and concepts how to do things form kite to very complex.
    The internet gives you a voice you can make inputs which logically stimulate your inventive genus and gives you melie for self expression originality .The net helps brew and diseminate the stenier stuff in creative people.

  5. 5 Linda from Italy
    February 3, 2010 at 12:27

    Original article found – very interesting!

    JL: “We shouldn’t want the whole world to take on the quality of having been designed by a committee”
    Absolutely – to quote the old saying, a camel is just horse designed by a committee. Consensus usually equals lowest common denominator, often leaving nobody happy with the outcome, not the best environment for thriving creativity.

    Dream come true? JL: “It turns out that millions of people are ready to contribute instead of sitting passively on the couch watching television”
    I vehemently disagree that reading a book/article, watching a film/TV programme listening to a radio broadcast/music are necessarily passive occupations. Your brain will be processing the input and your critical thinking abilities will then evaluate the material for aesthetic content, logical argument etc.
    Much of this so-called interactivity is just a kneejerk reaction without any worthwhile reflection behind it, thus also militating against reflection followed by reasoned argument, too often one group of people just reinforcing each others’ prejudices.

    Back with more later.

  6. 7 piscator
    February 3, 2010 at 12:31

    Too right. All my art students think that copying artwork off the internet, or a camera, processing it with Adobe and putting their names on it makes it original work. Children’s minds are becoming captives of a set of stereotyped images and electronic techniques and their own abilities are being stifled. The media has indeed becomes the picture.

    Similarly, as people can select and copy any music or art they like, they seldom see anything outside their own frame of reference from a very early age. Plus, they reject anything that takes time to appreciate. Also the internet consumes much time that could be spent on other forms of intellect, like talking to real people and going to places.

    The internet can lead to shallowness, self absorption, and lack of attention span, but mainly it can keep people immature. It’s a Wacky Wikki World.

  7. 8 Nigel
    February 3, 2010 at 13:24

    Before the Internet would this guy have been listened to? Would he have been able to gain such prominence over such a short time over such a meaningless subject. Maybe since the Internet guides only a small part of my life and is great fun but does not control any aspect of my life and emotions I just plain don’t understand.

  8. 9 T
    February 3, 2010 at 14:27

    “Do you need to be somebody?” is a loaded question (IMO). How do you determine that exactly?

    Also, I say it’s made us more creative. In the sense of global connections. Ex: WHYS. If the Net didn’t exist, would WHYS be possible? I don’t think so.

  9. 10 roebert
    February 3, 2010 at 14:41

    Whatever can be found on the internet is just so much more material for one or another kind of mental processing. If you tend to be creative in the way you process information or ‘material’ you will use what the net has to offer in a creative way. If you aren’t creative, you’ll use the material in uncreative ways. It’s how you use your brain that determines how you’ll use the net, not the other way round.

    It comes down to basic education at home and at learning institutions. Teach kids (and adults) to use their brains creatively and the net will keep on providing more and more interesting material for their use.

  10. 11 gary indiana
    February 3, 2010 at 14:56

    Many imagine they perceive a growing incidence of a variety of global evils. I do not. I think our evils are all well known to us and always have been. Global access allows use of a large, but not too well-organized body of information. Using the gained knowledge isn’t much different that it used to be. Some facts still hold true: Common sense still works. Mediocrity is the most common condition. Information is less likely factual if someone makes money when the reader believes it. Paying attention and working hard still provide a path to success.
    However, access does allow clear vision both of the real and of the unreal. The highly creative people have always been a small minority, while the many attempt imitation. I think Mr. Jaron Lanier’s online view of the wheat is being obstructed by the chaff, and that perhaps he needs to get off the highway to see the creativity its existence has nourished.

  11. 12 T
    February 3, 2010 at 15:09

    If Lanier thinks that the Net is so bad, then what’s his alternative? Do away with it? If we did that in the 21st century, what would be the alternative?

  12. 13 Idris Dangalan
    February 3, 2010 at 15:11

    Helen! Internet makes me faster and confidence. I think Internet is like worship temple come and served your duties with collegues

  13. 14 Gary Paudler
    February 3, 2010 at 15:33

    No, the internet is a tool and a medium that creative people will use to augment hammers and brushes and centrifuges and television and paint and steel and film. There is a lack of creativity because there is a lack of education and the same entities that benefit from an uninformed electorate are happy when the internet or drugs or crappy television distract the people from poor leadership. I do not equate creativity with education but mean to say that uneducated people have far fewer creative opportunities. I am compulsively creative; it distracts me the way alcohol distracts a drunk, and the internet, while not essential to my processes is a great resource. The internet makes this an especially good time to be a creative person but does not hinder or otherwise transform an inherently creative person.

  14. 15 Linda from Italy
    February 3, 2010 at 15:46

    JL “There are only a tiny handful of writers or musicians who actually make a living in the new utopia, for instance. Almost everyone else is becoming more like a peasant every day.”
    And there lies the paradox. In our urge to do away with all the gate keepers, publishers, record and film companies, critics etc., we have thrown the artistic baby out with the bath water. It was always hard for creative people to get past these gate keepers, get published (in the broadest sense of the word) and then reviewed and the free for all should have made it easier, and so it has, since everyone can publish online for free and get some sort of plaudit from someone, somewhere in the virtual universe, no matter how few critical faculties their admirers might have.
    Now, without any informed guidance through the morass of dross out there, it is likely that critical faculties will further decline and we will have the ultimate in niche marketing, every work aimed at and enjoyed by a narrow tribe, nothing of universal significance or resonance, unless you can equate “going viral” to winning the Booker Prize. It will indeed be even harder for quality work to gain a hearing.

    • 16 Ronald Almeida
      February 4, 2010 at 09:18

      Linda, I thoroughly agree with you, but as you yourself have said it has always been difficult even without the internet for creative people. For the simple reason that they will always be ahead. It has been the problem of mass production itself. Intellect and creativity has never been strong point of the masses and never will be. Hollywood blockbusters and bestsellers will always reign.

  15. February 3, 2010 at 15:54

    The Internet is what you make it. I have found, since I utilize the Internet to post my politico-religious views on blogs and forums, that cliques develop, attitudes harden against this or that person regardless of what they say or do, the sandbox or playground or bully mentality rules, instead of treating each new post as a new post, something to consider and maturely evaluate, even if disagreeing with the person on some other subject in the past.

  16. 18 John in Salem
    February 3, 2010 at 16:05

    We are witnessing an incredibly dynamic process that has no parallels to anything in this planet’s history. Our species is undergoing a metamorphosis that cannot be stopped or slowed by any intellectual Luddites who are uncomfortable with the idea of change. We have reached this point by being, among other things, the most creative animal the world has ever seen, and if Mr. Lanier thinks he can forecast our future based on the last 30 years I wish him and his ideas good luck, but my advice would be to step aside if he doesn’t want to be run over by evolution.

  17. 19 Ben Ohio
    February 3, 2010 at 17:16

    First, 99% of all Internet content is crap- spam, pop up ads, hackers, and scams. The remaining percent is fantastic, though. WHYS is a very good example of what’s right.

    Frankly, the I’net closely mirrors a WalMart- you have to ignore 50,000 items to get to the few you want. The management of resources is absolutely ridiculous. But, “constrictive”? I don’t think so.

  18. February 3, 2010 at 17:49

    Has the Internet made us less Creative?


    NO 100%

    All it takes is a little thinking!!!

    One statement covers it all!


    We have access to so much information via the net. You would have a hard time finding an internet user who hasn’t learned something from the internet. And with that knowledge, no matter how small, each person has increased their capacity to analize, comprehend and assemilate that knowledge into their current frame of reference as it may apply. And with that piece of knowledge they have become more creative. Even that little old Grand Mother who gets to see her childrens children over the internet and sends a few emails has expanded her creativity in other facets of her life from having that knowledge.

    Every little thing we learn on the internet, increases out potential for greater creativity!

    You can’t deny the knowledge!

    • 21 Linda from Italy
      February 4, 2010 at 14:52

      Alan, knowlege may be, and probably is power, although guns and bombs tend to help, but information most emphatically does not equal knowledge!

  19. 22 Cabe Searle UK
    February 3, 2010 at 18:38

    People are taking what he is saying far too literally, he is a computer scientist after all, so basically he’s ‘for’ the Internet…
    He’s not really saying that the Internet itself crushes creativity. What he’s saying (?) is that people Are constantly using the Internet for Their creativity, in preference to anything else out there….. and, that we are destroying our ability to create without it..
    Not sure I totally agree with that, – there IS a Huge world of creativity ON the Internet although I do think the main ‘creators’ are the Internet programmers themselves! Everyone else just logs on to pre-existing sites – like little boxes – which are already mapped out for you. Everyone’s ‘creativity’ is then limited to that site’s dimensions… So ultimately, everyone’s creativity will become the same idea?
    I do believe in the ‘collective consciousness’ and sometimes ‘collectives’ do make the best stuff, but I think his gripe is that the stuff that Internet ‘collectives’ make – is all the Same stuff… and that because it’s a global medium, we are All thinking the same thoughtsk, at all the same time etc, etc – Like Clones? .. and Yep! – I agree with that!

  20. 23 viola
    February 3, 2010 at 19:00

    Reminds me of the Doonesbury cartoon where Zonker says, when asked if he is somebody (he’s at a celebrity night club), and he replies, “I like to think so.”

    Anyway, there are many paths to “somebodiness.” In the early days of fiction writing, many people considered reading novels a wicked waste of valuable time.

  21. 24 pendkar
    February 3, 2010 at 19:16

    ‘Being somebody before you can share’: applies to teenagers. Being online in a purely peer environment does seem to make them dull.

    But in a mixed environment, it can get good results. I used to part of Harry Potter fansite, that had a well moderated site, and the members were encouraged to post their original essays. The constributors must have been a mixed group – language teachers, teenagers, undergraduate literature students, first time readers.

  22. 25 Todd in Atlanta
    February 3, 2010 at 19:52

    As an illustrator, I find the internet has not only made me more creative but the amount of work available at my fingertips to study, use as reference, and be inspired by is overwhelming. And I love it. As for Penelope’s earlier pie in the sky ideas of payment… I’m sorry, after placing my work online, I still have to pay bills, pay for my plane ticket when I want to travel, and buy food. The internet has already shown that it can be financially rewarding and I definitely want to be fully rewarded financially for my creativity, since I can use those funds to expand on that creativity in many ways. The more ways that are available for that, the more options I have to make what I love to do a solid job. But that’s just me.


    • 26 Ronald Almeida
      February 4, 2010 at 08:50

      What about the pleasure of feelin the direct touch of pencil or a paintbrush on paper? Don’t you miss that?

  23. 27 Ronald Almeida
    February 4, 2010 at 08:45

    Has the internet made us less creative?
    This question to me seems basically a repetition of the other i.e. is the internet constraining our individuality?
    Every technological development has constrained human creativity in some sense and propagated it in another. It is up to us to separate the grain from the chaff as individuals as it may not be the same for everybody.

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