Creativity, play and communication

Thinking aloud here about some stuff that occurred to me while continuing to read Speaking into the Air this morning. You probably won’t want to read this unless you live inside my PhD with me (messy in there, isn’t it?). These thoughts also go some way to explaining what I was getting at with my heretical talk of ‘authenticity’ and ‘presence’ in my first post since getting hold of the book.

There is an axiom floating around at the moment that creativity is meaningful only in that it is communicative – Negus and Pickering built a whole book out of this apparently straightforward concept (it’s quite a good book too, despite others’ lamentations to the commentary). However, the axiom only looks straightforward if both the key terms are taken at face value – creativity meaning the cognitive process of innovative (usually cultural) production; communication meaning at least the transmission of information, at most the exchange of ideas. Negus and Pickering do a lot to unpack the genealogy and usage of the first of these keywords, but do much less with the second.

In my PhD research, my two detailed case studies are Apple’s iLife suite and digital storytelling. In trying to explain how these two case studies relate to each other, I’ve started to think about them in relation to two very different constructions of creativity – creativity as productive play, with no necessary relation to the social (the dominant one); and creativity as communication, which is less dominant, but far more central to my own arguments. [Before I go on, let me say quite clearly that there is no reason these two constructions of creativity should be exclusive: in fact, I might go far as to say that the kind of creativity I mean when I talk about “vernacular creativity” is precisely an articulation of play and sociality.]

But anyway, this is how I’m thinking of how my two case studies sit in relation to all this:

The iLife suite and the discourses around it structure creativity as productive play (play meaning childlike fun – I would need a whole paragraph to unpack ‘play’ as well). The dominant metaphor apple uses is, as I see it, the toybox: the interfaces all look like etch-a-sketches made of candy, and garageband is a bright tasty box of sonic lego blocks (and I wish it were play dough). To be creative in this universe is simply to make media, and to have fun making it. (there’s more to it, but you don’t want the whole chapter here)

Digital storytelling, fun as it is, productive as it is, goes much further towards the kind of communicative creativity that I think constitutes meaningful agency in the ‘network of networks’ of contemporary culture. The kind of communicative creativity I am talking about is not to be understood in the sense of communication as the exchange of information or ‘ideas’, but as social action – the test of effective communication in this sense is a kind of being there, a kind of becoming real as a participant in the network. I think this understanding of creativity avoids the emptiness of the rah-rah celebration of it as the driving force behind the ‘new economy’, which is one good thing, and it opens up the concept so that it is no longer about the expression of the creator’s interiority, but actually privileges collaborative creativity – another good thing.