Technology and creativity

Confession time. When I was a child I was a big fan of Mary Norton’s Borrowers books. These little people were almost real to me, to the extent I would look for clues to their actual existence. I suppose I thought something that engrossed me so much must be based in reality. (By the way, forget the travesty of a film, the books are MUCH better.)

I had some Borrowers myself. They were Star Wars figurines, which were a little smaller than the real Borrowers, but suited my purposes well. Up to an embarrassingly mature age, probably 12 or 13, I would create worlds for my Borrowers out of shoe boxes, book covers, string and anything else I could find. I built houses and vehicles, systems for defence, drawbridges, pulleys and trapdoors. I stopped short of using dolls house furniture to furnish rooms (hey, I’m not *that* sad) but still, I remember spending far too much time playing with my Borrowers.

When I was a little older electronics took over. I would take apart old radios and try to put them back together. I always failed. In fact I never remember anything working better after I’d tinkered with it – in fact I never remember anything work at all after I’d tinkered with it. So I made pretend devices. I got into no small amount of trouble once when I built a fake bomb including a large lump of Blu-tack inside a box. I didn’t know there was an IRA bomb scare that day, and I certainly didn’t intend my device to be found. I grew up a little bit that day.

Looking back I see that – like everyone – I’m a product of my past. Those years spent building things out of bits I had lying around were teaching my brain to develop in two directions: technology and creativity. And tinkering with stuff to make something new is exactly what I continue to do today.

You see, the art of being a web developer is about the creative use of technology – taking bits we have lying around (HTML, PHP, JavaScript, SQL) and making something new. Both sides of the coin are as important as the other. You can start with the technology – the lines of code, bits and bytes – and apply some creativity to make them into something useful. Or you can start with creativity – an idea, a vision of a finished product – and then use the technology to make it happen. But you can’t have one without the other. they rely on each other.

A how developer makes thousands of tiny choices every day, from how to construct a block of code to what kind of button to use in a form. Sometimes lucky people may have UI designers to work with who make some of those decisions for them, but I would guess most web developers have to wear lots of hats at the same time. Database schema designer, UI designer, backend developer, front end developer, graphic designer, documentation writer and project manager are just the hats I’ve worn today.

Having both creativity and technology on your side helps you to wear all these hats, and stay sane. Creativity helps you make those small decisions that move a project in the right direction. Technology helps you put those decisions into action. Technology helps you know what options are available to you at every decision point. Creativity gives you the inkling you need to choose the right path.

It seems my brain, because I’m a product of my past, fits this technology/creativity mix quite well. For the same reason I love jazz music, as it is based on the two pillars of technology (chord structures and sequences, scales, arpeggi, melodies and more) and creativity. I’m sure there are many more things that have a similar mix of these two elements (architecture and cookery, for example).

As we start a new year I want to help develop my skills in these areas. I want to develop my technological skills by learning more about the technologies I use every day, and possibly some new technologies. And I want to develop my creative skills by looking closely at how other more advanced developers have used technology in creative ways. Hopefully by the end of 2010 I’ll be able to say I’ve moved forward.

One thought on “Technology and creativity

  1. Beautiful sentiments that you expressed in your post about technology and creativity. For certain, the two are inseparable. Without technology of some kind–even if it’s “only” the technology of our brain–there is no creativity. And without creativity, there is not going to be much, if any, technology. As you pursue your New Year’s Quest to expand your creative skills, we’d welcome your visiting our website to see how we’ve been helping people move their skills and creative “inner ecology” forward, yes, to the next level, for the past 30 years. Meanwhile, please accept our best wishes for a Productive and Plenteous New Year!

    Dudley Lynch
    Brain Technologies Corporation
    Gainessvile, FL

    Author of The Mother of All Minds: Leaping Free of an Outdated Human Nature and co-author of Strategy of the Dolphin: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World

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