Thursday, April 17, 2008


There will be more to come on the topic of information availability and the effect (or potential effect) on creativity. The notion of information overload, diversity of available information, framing what we get from mass media, the ease with which we can research and locate specific types of information has been surfacing in several work settings. Then I found an article in the current Poets & Writers (P&W) magazine about the pros and cons of everything that is available to us.

As writers, certainly it can be easier - at least on the surface - to hunt around in cyberspace from the comfort of home in your pajamas with coffee or tea at your side for that elusive roadside stop you remember from 1976 or what roads there are between Greeley and Taos, than to get showered, dressed, and drag yourself to your favorite library or university to browse their stacks and archives. There is the question of validity and reliability of what you find online; but most of us probably have our known sources and try to back up what we find if it is a new site we don't generally use. Hence the "maybe it's easier to surf the web" thought above.

I read "Way, Way Too Much Information," by Frank Bures, in the current P&W issue. There are several interesting points he makes - such as the study about how dealing with email and text messaging can lower your IQ 10 points, or how multitasking may not actually be helping us get things done better because our brain power drops by nearly 50% so we may be less effective - which made me think. The one that really caught me, though, was how the bombardment of information may actually lead to "...the loss of creative space."

Bures cites a 2003 study which found that
...creative people are much more likely to have what's called low "latent inhibition," the ability to look at an incoming piece of information, classify it, and then discard it automatically if experience has shown it is likely to be irrelevant. "The brains of creative people," they wrote, "appear to be more open to incoming stimuli," and more likely to remain in contact with that stimuli for longer.

This is good news for those of us who are trying to create something original out of the material of life, but what does it mean for our ability to stay on task and actually create it? Could one of the building blocks of creativity—an openness to new and interesting things—become an obstruction?

He goes on to talk about finding space and, basically, disconnecting for a while as a remedy to the overload. Then this links back to some earlier thoughts and discussions I've had with other writers and with artists about the need to get out of the familiar sometimes. To find a place to go where we can let go of some "shoulds" and "have to" and become a little out of touch. Or go somewhere so our brains can relax and just take in what we see and think.

Right now, this is an idea which is still forming. I could have waited until I had something more definitive to say - but it feels big to me. Important. And I wanted to get it written down, to make space for it, and I will return. It is a topic I don't see fading away anytime soon.

I'd love to read what others think about this notion of too much information, or that you disagree. If it does sometimes feel too much, what do you do to counteract the impact?