We often think of history as a progression, a movement from point A to B where we continually improve our lives and develop. However, ‘progress’ often comes with substantial setbacks, interlinked with the advances that are being made. We have made huge advances in information technology, multi-sensory experiences and how we engage with a multiplicity of artistic platforms, but my concern is that this comes at a cost: the death of imagination.
I should add as a disclaimer that I write from a privileged position, and this article is largely directed at those who share my easy access to technology. What I am arguing is perhaps most directly relevant for those who have grown up in the so-called ‘technological revolution’. For those who have, these arguments may not be new, but the idea really hit home for me during a recent cinema trip. Soon, we will be able to go to the cinema and not only see a performance but be moved around in our chair, shown everything in 3D and able to taste, smell and hear the performance too. Exciting right? On the one hand it is incredible that we are able to do all this, but what is there left for us to imagine?
The gaming industry is heading in the same direction, creating great excitement for many. In the very same cinema I mentioned above, you can go to the gaming area and enjoy multi-sensory experiences for just a couple of pounds. It is not very long until we will be able to experience all this in the comfort of our own homes. We are so used to it that we take it for granted, but I think the consequences may be more far reaching than the two minute interactive game we enjoy.
I know far too many children who simply cannot sit down with a book; it is boring, they cannot imagine the characters. Why bother when you can see the film version? Nursery school teachers are reporting that children of four and five do not know how to turn the pages of a book, they have to be taught. The problem of who to ‘blame’ is the subject of a different article but the issue runs in multiple directions.It is not just that we are subbing in books for films, and films for multi-sensory experience that are becoming the equivalent of ‘real’ life, it is that we seem to be using our imagination even less in everyday life. Here, I am using the word ‘imagination’ in a flexible way: we no longer problem solve, think creatively and imagine new solutions.
Why play with a mathematical language when we have calculators? Why imagine an alternative strategy when Google will hold a variety of solutions? Why imagine a different world when our lives are being made increasingly comfortable? It is extraordinary that we have such easy access to so much information, but I do not think it is necessarily making us more intelligent, I think it is making us lazy.
Herein lies a bizarre paradox: the creation of the ‘internet’, or cinematic experiences, took an insane amount of imagination, creative talent and intelligence from large groups of people. Everything I am referring to, all this ‘progress’ is impressive and should be celebrated. However, the intelligence and imagination it took for all these creations, is making our lives ever simpler and possibly stunting the creative intellect that made these ‘steps forward’ possible in the first place. Would someone who spent their life on Google looking for answers, have the intelligence to create something as daring and large scale as Google? Possibly not.
I said that who is to ‘blame’ is a subject for another article, but I will offer a brief note on our schooling systems here, to reflect on some of the wider ramifications. To an extent, we are taught to ‘think freely’ at school but that is always within certain limits. I was told to think independently, until that meant I wanted to wear trousers to school and a white poppy on Remembrance Day, and then I was told to stop thinking. Many people are taught religious doctrine or nationalism at school and not offered the opportunity to critique these teachings. We are put through a rigid system where we have to raise our hand before we do basic things like speak or go to the bathroom, and then are thrown out into the workplace.The first internships I experienced were terrifying, because for the first time ever I was being expected to think independently and this was not something I had been trained for. We are not being encouraged to think for ourselves, problem solve, or enhance our creative talents. No one is encouraged to go into artistic career paths because they are ‘risky’ and ‘there is no money in them.’ A capitalist system requires economic growth and stability, so that is what we prioritise. This is reflected in the fact that arts budgets are being slashed, museums and libraries closed, and our government is spending ever less on anything that cannot be counted in immediate monetary value.
Despite all this, the human imagination will never die. We will always be creative, resilient and imaginative, so use that imagination and defy the mainstream culture that demands ‘rationality’ and ‘economic sense.’ Give your child a book, pick up one yourself, explore the development of cinematic history, practice mental maths, do not automatically obey your teacher, do not just google search something: think for yourself.
Images courtesy of Pixabay.