Creativity, Have You Been Swallowed By The Collective?

So, it seems to me that people, these days, are suffering from a nasty case of Groupthink, or “Collective” thinking (to borrow a concept made famous by the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation).

Imagine, if you will, that you’re driving along a busy city thoroughfare, and you hear about a delay in the route ahead.  Naturally, being a clever one, you detour and bypass the slowdown using a “secret” little-used side road.  A few minutes later, however, you’re brought to a jarring halt, and you discover that a hundred other people have had the same thought, and are now clogging your detour route!

If you’re anything like me, you understand just how incredibly frustrating this can be.

Yet, it’s only one example highlighting just how pervasive the problem of “Collective” thinking has become.  And, as tempting as it might be to blame this kind of thing solely on the overreliance on GPS technology, or Social Media, I think that the issue might actually have deeper roots…

Over decades, we’ve shaped a society of people who define themselves by the music, books, movies, and television series’ that interest them.  We bond over shared media interests, using them like a social lubricant.  While this kind of definition might not have been harmful a generation ago, I think that, in the digital age, it may be the cause of an eventual amputation of original thought.  If we’re all being fed the same media diet, after all, it’s natural that our perceptions and reasoning abilities would tend to converge – that we react similarly, because of shared experiences.  But, what if that diet consists only of junk and regurgitated material?  What if everyone is fed intravenously and simultaneously?  Have we become too similar?  And, at what point do we sound the alarm?

Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean.  Lately, it seems like everything produced in the entertainment industry is either an adaptation of an existing material, or a sequel to something that was once unique.  The shocking lack of originality was laughable at first, but it has become more than a little disturbing.  What’s worse, however, is that it’s so pervasive…  Cultural diversity is being lost the world over, to the detriment of us all!

I know what you’re going to say.  You’re going to remind me that shared interests encourage cultural similarity, and help bond groups together – which, in evolutionary terms, is a good thing.  And you’d be right, if we were living in small semi-isolated communities.  But, because we now have cities that are almost unsustainably overcrowded, and a world that can transmit data in seconds from one side of the planet to the other, we are hindering, rather than helping, our own evolution.

When I was in University, I learned about evolution and speciation.  I remember, in particular, learning about two groups of African lions.  One pride was typical and lived in a territory bordered by other prides, where, over generations, confrontation and cross-breeding occurred.  The second pride, however, lived in a segregated territory, isolated from the larger population of lions.  Although large enough to sustain a basic level of genetic variation, the isolated pride’s evolution was demonstrably more rapid, over only a few generations, than the first pride.

The point, if you’ll indulge me, is that… if we want to see variation and novelty in creativity (and day-to-day thought, for that matter) we need to step away from the “Collective.”

We need to “unplug,” even if only for a few minutes a day.  Seek out a new experience, or learn something new (something traditional or, perhaps, unconventional).  Visit a grandparent, or elderly relative, and listen to a story from their youth.  Don’t Tweet about the experience, don’t take any pictures of it… just absorb it.

If we allow that knowledge, or experience, to become part of who we are – as something unique to us – and let it nourish our individuality, it might just spark the renewed vibrancy in our culture that we so desperately need.


Please note that I realize I must “walk the talk,” and live any advice that I give.  Note, also, that I’m painfully aware of the irony in using this “Collective” medium to convey my message, but we need to start somewhere.

1 Comment

Filed under Miscellaneous

One response to “Creativity, Have You Been Swallowed By The Collective?

  1. I often find that my mind works more fluidly and comes up with more ideas when I’m away from the computer, which isn’t often. I need to do it more in that case. Great article.

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